10 Questions Texas Voters Should Ask State Candidates About Supporting Children

Across the state, candidates are asking Texans for their vote. That means this is the perfect time for you to ask candidates about urgent state policies, educate them on the issues, and let them know what issues are important to you.

This voter guide covers 10 children’s issues that state policymakers will have to address if they are elected in 2018. We encourage you to ask one or more of these questions to candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Senator, and State Representative.

You may wish to pose these questions to a candidate through social media, during a community forum, by contacting their office if they are already an elected official, or through other appropriate methods.

Remember, in many districts, the most important election is the primary election in the Spring rather than the general election in the Fall. We encourage you to talk to candidates prior to both elections and to vote in both elections. Texans do not need to be a member of a particular party to participate in the party’s primary election but you can only vote in one party’s primary.

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Important Election Dates

Primary election

  • Last Day to Register to Vote: Monday, February 5, 2018
  • Early Vote: February 20 - March 2, 2018
  • Election Day: March 6, 2018

PRIMARY RUNOFF ELECTION 

  • Last Day to Register to Vote: Monday, April 23, 2018
  • Early Vote: May 14 - May 18, 2018
  • Election Day: May 22, 2018

General election

  • Last Day to Register to Vote: October 9, 2018
  • Early Vote: October 22 - November 2, 2018
  • Election Day: November 6, 2018
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10 Issues: Why they matter, what happened in 2017, and questions for state candidates

Access to High-Quality Pre-k

Why it matters: Pre-k helps more kids start school with the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond rather than starting behind their peers on day one and struggling to catch up. Business leaders, economists, and others have endorsed pre-k because of the high return on investment. The state provides funding for half-day public school pre-k for four-year-olds who come from low-income families or meet other criteria. Some school districts use local funds to offer full-day pre-k.

What happened in 2017: In 2015, the Legislature established an important pre-k grant program proposed by Governor Abbott for providing school districts additional funding to strengthen pre-k. In 2017, the Legislature and Governor eliminated the grant funding but are still expecting school districts to invest more in improving the quality of pre-k without any additional state funding. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support additional funding for pre-k to make up for the funding cut in 2017 and to help more districts expand to full-day pre-k, reduce pre-k class sizes, or make other investments to support pre-k teachers and classrooms?

Preventing Maternal and Infant Deaths

Why it matters: A high number of Texas women have faced serious medical complications during or shortly after pregnancy or even died during this time. Many of these deaths occurred from treatable or preventable conditions. Although Texas women of all backgrounds have died during or soon after pregnancy, the rate of maternal deaths has been highest among Black women. Many Texas communities also have high infant mortality rates. These are clear signs of inadequate state policies on maternal health, which are critical for keeping moms and babies alive and for preventing birth defects, low-birth weight, preterm births, and other infant health concerns.

What happened in 2017: The Legislature continued the important state task force on maternal mortality, took steps to improve maternal mortality data collection, and expanded access to postpartum depression screenings. However, lawmakers failed to vote on bills that take concrete steps to improve women’s health. For example, low-income uninsured women in Texas typically can only apply for Medicaid coverage after they are pregnant and they are removed from Medicaid two months after delivery, but the Legislature failed to vote on the bill to expand that coverage to a full year after delivery. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: During the 2019 legislative session will you support efforts to expand access to health care for Texas women and implement the recommendations from the state task force on maternal mortality?

Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Why it matters: In too many cases, schools suspend students instead of giving teachers or students the support they need, students are arrested for behavior that used to be handled in the classroom, and inadequately trained school police officers with undefined roles mishandle student behavior. Due to the implicit biases that all of us have, students of color and those with disabilities are often subject to disproportionate harsh punishments. Students who experience these discipline practices miss out on learning time in the classroom and face a higher risk of entering the criminal justice system.

What happened in 2017: The Legislature passed an importation prohibition on out-of-school suspensions for pre-k through second grade. In 2015, lawmakers passed positive legislation to require youth-specific training for school police officers in large school districts, but in 2017 the Legislature failed to pass the bill to expand the training to all school districts. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support legislation to end the school-to-prison pipeline?

Restoring Services for Toddlers with Disabilities

Why it matters: The state’s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program contracts with community organizations to help children under age three with disabilities and developmental delays learn to walk, communicate with their families, swallow their food, get ready to start school, or meet other goals. However, fewer Texas children of all backgrounds – and particularly Black children – are receiving ECI services since the Legislature reduced ECI funding starting in 2011 and reduced Medicaid payments for children’s therapy starting in 2015. During that time, several organizations around the state have shut down their ECI programs.

What happened in 2017: The Texas House pushed to restore the Medicaid therapy funding cut in 2015 while the Texas Senate sought to maintain the funding cuts, resulting in a disappointing 25 percent restoration of funding. The Legislature also increased the appropriation for ECI but fell short of fully funding the program or returning the program to its 2011 funding level. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support restoring funding for ECI and Medicaid therapy payments so young children with disabilities get the support they need to fulfill their potential?

Supporting Student Mental Health

Why it matters: Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Gulf Coast communities has shined a spotlight on student mental health challenges. Those challenges – whether rooted in trauma or depression or something else – undermine student learning in the classroom, contribute to behavior challenges at schools, and contribute to the high rate of teen suicide. School-based services and other programs can help students address these challenges, but there is no statewide strategy to support student mental health.

What happened in 2017: The Legislature passed several important mental health bills but did not pass a multi-tiered student mental health bill written by the House Public Health Committee Chairman. Following Hurricane Harvey, the Governor appointed a task force to address student mental health in communities affected by the hurricane. The task force is an important step forward, but it lacks the statewide focus, funding, and authority necessary to provide schools and students the support they need. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support legislation in the 2019 session to support student mental health?

Strengthening Foster Care and CPS

Why it matters: When children are removed from unsafe homes and placed in foster care, their lives should get better, not worse. But many children have been abused in the foster care system overseen by CPS, leading a federal judge to declare that Texas children’s constitutional rights have been violated. Additionally, in many cases, children in foster care with significant challenges do not receive the mental health treatment, pregnancy prevention services, or other support they need.

What happened in 2017: In late 2016 and during the 2017 session, the Legislature made important progress, including increasing salaries for CPS caseworkers and making other changes to the agency to reduce CPS staff turnover and delays in abuse investigations; increasing support for caregivers taking in young relatives from unsafe homes; and expanding the promising Community Based Care model in which a nonprofit spearheads the community’s foster care efforts. But the Legislature left more work to do, including creating higher quality foster homes that meet the unique needs of youth in care, providing more support to biological parents so families can stay together safely, and ensuring Community Based Care is achieving the desired outcomes. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you build on the recent CPS improvements by maintaining or increasing funding and backing additional legislation in 2019 to support children in foster care?

Funding for Critical Health Programs

Why it matters: One of the most important responsibilities of the state Legislature is to fully fund critical health programs. Those programs include Medicaid (for people with disabilities and low-income children, pregnant women, and seniors); CHIP (for uninsured children in families earning too much to quality for Medicaid but too little to purchase insurance); women’s health programs (including health screenings and family planning); and substance use recovery programs (including those that help keep families safely together while serving pregnant women and other parents in need).

What happened in 2017: The Legislature continued the recent practice of underfunding Medicaid, putting pressure on the next Legislature to backfill the program or cut services. Congress also failed to renew federal funding for CHIP on time, creating uncertainty about the future of children’s health care. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support fully funding Medicaid, CHIP and other health programs that serve children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, parents with substance use disorders, and others?

High-Quality, Affordable Child Care

Why it matters: Research shows that children’s experiences during the first years of life -- whether at home or in child care or in pre-k -- shape their brain architecture and provide the foundation for the rest of their lives. Although these early childhood years have a profound effect on the future of Texas, state policymakers have taken few steps to ensure that child care is safe, affordable, or effective at providing children with the nurturing, engaging, supportive experience they need at that age. For example, the state allows a single child care teacher to care for 11 two-year-olds, falling far short of national best practices.

What happened in 2017: The Legislature did not pass important bills filed to improve nutrition and physical activity standards in child care and require the state to address child safety by collecting data on caregiver-child ratios in child care programs. In general, lawmakers paid little attention to child care issues during the legislative session. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support efforts to improve child care to ensure more children are in healthy, safe, and effective early learning environments?

Moving Youth Out of Dangerous Juvenile Justice Facilities

Why it matters: When Texas youth commit crimes, they need to be held accountable in a way that keeps them safe and helps them to get their lives on track. However, recent reports of staff sexual misconduct with youth in the state’s Gainesville juvenile justice facility are the latest evidence that remote, isolated lock-ups with large numbers of youth are neither safe nor effective at rehabilitating youth. Safer and more effective options include reducing the number of youth who enter the juvenile justice system in the first place and placing youth closer to home in local juvenile probation facilities, rehabilitation centers, or community programs.

What happened in 2017: In late 2017, key state legislators and children’s advocates called for closing these types of facilities and moving youth closer to home. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support closing remote juvenile justice facilities with large numbers of youth and moving youth to more effective community programs or smaller facilities closer to home?

Ending the Texas Policy of Automatically Sending 17-Year-Olds to the Adult Justice System

Why it matters: Texas is one of only five states that automatically sends all 17-year-olds to the adult criminal justice system when they are caught shoplifting, drinking alcohol, or committing other offenses. In the adult system, 17-year-olds are more likely to be assaulted or commit suicide. In the adult system, they do not have access to the educational and rehabilitative programs in the juvenile justice system. And the mistake they made at age 17 creates a criminal record that will make it harder for them to get a job, an education, or an apartment later in life.

What happened in 2017: The Texas House overwhelming passed a strong bipartisan bill to hold 17-year-olds accountable through the juvenile justice system, in most cases through the local juvenile probation department, while maintaining the option to treat 17-year-olds as adults when a judge deems it appropriate. The Senate, however, did not hold a hearing or a vote on the bill. (Read more.)

Ask your state candidates: Will you support raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17?