DOES THE HATE LEGISLATURE OUR KIDS?
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.
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.
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.