DOES THE HATE LEG­IS­LA­TURE OUR KIDS?

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Bob San­born

THE reg­u­lar Texas leg­isla­tive ses­sion has ended and a spe­cial ses­sion is about to be­gin to fo­cus on work judged in­com­plete by Gov. Greg Ab­bott. In­com­plete is a good term be­cause one has to ask: Aren’t we for­get­ting about our fu­ture? Aren’t we for­get­ting about the chil­dren?

We hear from leg­is­la­tors time and time again about how much they care about the most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents of our state. But if ac­tions speak louder than words, then the in­ac­tion on the part of our elected lead­ers is deaf­en­ing. Do they not care about chil­dren?

One in 10 chil­dren born in Amer­ica is born in Texas. Sixty per­cent of all of Texas pub­lic school chil­dren are grow­ing up in low-in­come house­holds; in­deed 440,000 Texas chil­dren are grow­ing up in house­holds where the av­er­age an­nual in­come is less than $9,000. What is clear to me as a re­searcher is that chil­dren who grow up in low-in­come house­holds need help in the form of good schools and good health to break free of the cy­cle of poverty. A qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and ad­e­quate health care are nec­es­sary for chil­dren to thrive, grow up and con­trib­ute to a vi­brant econ­omy.

In the reg­u­lar ses­sion, a few sig­nif­i­cant pro­pos­als to im­prove pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion ap­peared on the leg­isla­tive slate. One was school fi­nance. Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled our state ed­u­ca­tion fi­nance sys­tem con­sti­tu­tional, yet bro­ken. Af­ter a ses­sion where ed­u­ca­tion was ar­gued about in terms of vouch­ers and bath­rooms, the core of the sys­tem (fi­nances) re­mained un­changed, un­fair and un­help­ful to the 6 mil­lion chil­dren in our schools.

The other key ed­u­ca­tion is­sue was high-qual­ity pre-K. High-qual­ity pre-K, which was a pri­or­ity for our con­ser­va­tive gov­er­nor, is an ev­i­dence-based, es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent for suc­cess for low­in­come stu­dents, and a real ben­e­fit to work­ing par­ents and to our fu­ture econ­omy. Last sum­mer, a ma­jor re­search project in Texas funded by the Mead­ows Foun­da­tion showed the dra­matic pos­i­tive im­pact that high-qual­ity pre-K pro­grams have on our chil­dren. It rep­re­sents a big bang for the tax­payer buck and is the best dropout preven­tion and col­lege prep pro­gram our state could have; yet, our Leg­is­la­ture elected to cut fund­ing for pre-K pro­grams.

Our Leg­is­la­ture also bun­gled bet­ter child health through mis­guided leg­is­la­tion around im­mu­niza­tions. I un­der­stand that bring­ing up the doc­u­mented sci­ence around im­mu­niza­tions means that I need to be pre­pared to be ha­rassed by a core group of ac­tivists who have fore­gone any be­lief in sci­ence. But since when did sci­ence and ev­i­dence be­come the en­emy of our Leg­is­la­ture? Sev­eral brave Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors gave im­pas­sioned speeches call­ing for sen­si­ble be­lief in the power of medicine, only to be shouted down, re­sult­ing in poli­cies that will hurt the health of our chil­dren.

Cost-neu­tral bills that would have sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved co­or­di­na­tion, ef­fi­ciency and trans­parency in early-child­hood ed­u­ca­tion fell to the way­side. Leg­is­la­tion that would have pro­vided par­ents, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and ed­u­ca­tors with clearer in­for­ma­tion

about the qual­ity of child care paid with state and fed­eral funds failed. Good pub­lic pol­icy like this would have al­lowed pub­lic ele­men­tary schools and lo­cal child care providers to work to­gether to get kids school-ready.

We saw in­ac­tion when it came to school re­cess, which has been elim­i­nated by many ele­men­tary schools. We wit­nessed the fail­ure to en­act poli­cies around par­ent­ing, such as cre­at­ing a task force on par­ent ed­u­ca­tion and en­gage­ment to strate­gize best prac­tices, giv­ing par­ents the tools they need to do the most im­por­tant job they have. These is­sues had sup­port on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle, but noth­ing was passed.

As Tex­ans we value par­ents and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. We must also un­der­stand that chil­dren can’t be ex­pected to suc­ceed on their own. Qual­ity schools, qual­ity child­hood pro­grams and qual­ity health care give par­ents the sup­port they need to en­sure that ev­ery lit­tle Texan can grow into a strong, econ­omy-build­ing Texan.

No doubt if asked, ev­ery rep­re­sen­ta­tive and sen­a­tor at the Capi­tol would be aghast at the mere sug­ges­tion that the Leg­is­la­ture “hates” chil­dren. But when the Leg­is­la­ture ne­glects cru­cial chil­dren’s is­sues, when the money for vi­tal kids pro­grams is used as a bar­gain­ing chip, when po­lit­i­cal games are played with the pro­grams and tax­payer money meant for chil­dren and when a ses­sion ends with things ac­tu­ally be­com­ing worse for many of our most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, this con­clu­sion is not only log­i­cal, it is in­evitable.

Chil­dren rep­re­sent the fu­ture of Texas. No, chil­dren don’t vote, chil­dren don’t con­trib­ute to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns and chil­dren don’t mo­bi­lize pub­lic sup­port. But don’t we elect our Leg­is­la­ture to fight for these very same chil­dren? Maybe it’s time for our state law­mak­ers to cow­boy up and put on their big boy and big girl pants and do the work we elected them to do. This in­cludes un­der­stand­ing that a fight for a strong fu­ture for our state and fight for our chil­dren are one and the same. San­born is the pres­i­dent/CEO of CHIL­DREN AT RISK, a Tex­as­based re­search and ad­vo­cacy group. He also serves as ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the Journal of Ap­plied Re­search on Chil­dren and the Journal of Fam­ily Strengths.

Michael Paulsen / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Good schools and good health care are key to break­ing the cy­cle of poverty into which a great many Texas chil­dren are born, but law­mak­ers have bun­gled sev­eral ef­forts to im­prove kids’ out­look.

Eric Gay / AP

As Tex­ans, we value par­ents and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. But we also must un­der­stand that chil­dren can’t be ex­pected to suc­ceed on their own. Qual­ity schools, qual­ity ear­ly­child­hood pro­grams and qual­ity health care give par­ents the sup­port they need.

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