The 85th Legislative session focused so much on measures such as the ‘sanctuary cities bill’ and the ‘bathroom bill” that it’s easy to forget that much of the initial focus was supposed to be on something else.
Back in January, Gov. Greg Abbott released a list of his priorities, including increasing funding for pre-K programs and for Child Protective Services. It was what you might call a “child-centric” agenda.
Other lawmakers proposed bills to better fund schools and bills to stop prosecuting children as adults, but these failed to make it through the session.
“The reality is that [the Legislature] did very little in regards to what they could have done,” says Mandi Kimball, the director of public policy and government affairs for Children at Risk, a non-profit group focused on advocating for Texas kids.
“The leadership did not get along like we would like to see, there were political games that were played that got in the way, and then we had the Freedom Caucus disrupting the legislative process,” she says. “Every reasonable advocacy group, lobbyist and politician is angry about this.”
Kimball says that one of the major things lawmakers failed to address was school finance. House Bill 21, which was intended to inject $1.5 billion into state funding for public schools, was declared dead just days before the close of the session.
“It would have been nice for [the Legislature] to come together and figure out how they could advance the way that we serve children and make it stable and fund it appropriately,” she says.
Although Kimball was relieved to see lawmakers reach an agreement about how to fix CPS, she would have liked to see more funds allocated to services for foster children and vulnerable youth.
Despite these disappointments, Kimball considers lawmakers’ decision to expand pre-K to children of first responders who were killed or hurt while on duty to be a success. She also says that both chambers came to agreement about making advances in the fight against human trafficking.
Children at Risk will release a report in the coming weeks evaluating the legislative session, particularly bills relating to early education, public education, nutrition, the juvenile justice system and human trafficking.
“It will look at what passed and what were the missed opportunities,” Kimball says.
Written by Molly Smith.