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EduLege Tracker 6-13-19

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EduLege Update Volume VII, Number 41
June 13, 2019
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

They’re wise to be worry-warts…

While Texas educators say they are generally pleased that state legislators this year prioritized spending on public education—and worked to elevate the teaching profession—many are concerned about whether those gains will last beyond the next two years.

There is no money committed to pay for all the school funding upgrades beyond 2021, when the state estimates that the Texas Legislature will have to pony-up more than $13 billion to maintain those improvements.

“It’s a good start,” said Irene Morales, a longtime teacher-turned-instructional-coach at Parmer Lane Elementary School in the Round Rock school district, where Governor Greg Abbott signed the much-touted legislation—House Bill 3—into law. “I would like for them to continue the fight for making education a priority, not just today.”

School district administrators and educators across Texas share Ms. Morales’ skepticism. They are nervous about whether the money will be available in two years to keep the upgrades—higher teacher salaries; more per-pupil funding; full-day pre-kindergarten and lower property tax rates—in place.

While Texas schools are graduating students at some of the highest rates in the country and out-performing peers in all but eight other states on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress, Texas lags in other areas.

The state’s shortfalls are evident early, and continue through college:  About four in 10 children are unprepared when they start kindergarten. Texas has slipped to 46th in the nation in 4th grade reading. And just 28 percent of the graduating high school seniors earn a post-secondary degree, or professional licensing credentials, in six years.

Greg Smith, the President of the Texas Association of School Administrators, said most of the superintendents with whom he has talked plan to propose modest pay raises ranging from two to four percent. That’s because they are concerned about what funding will be available to sustain the pay raises in two years.

“I think all superintendents would approach this with guarded optimism, and that’s what I’m hearing,” said Mr. Smith, who is superintendent at Clear Creek.

Left behind (again)…

Focused on controlling rising property taxes and overhauling school finance, state legislators left Austin last month without substantively addressing other long-standing issues: the high number of Texas residents who have no health insurance and problems that still plague the child foster care system.

Advocates were encouraged that bills that addressed shortcomings in state social services, including those that would have expanded Medicaid, actually received public committee hearings at the beginning of the legislative session—something previous Legislatures had been loath to do.  

But dozens of bills—including those that would have extended Medicaid coverage for new mothers, prepared older teenagers to make the transition out of foster care and instituted trauma-informed care across the child welfare system—subsequently died, in large part because they carried hefty price tags.

Instead, the Legislature spent a combined $16 billion on Hurricane Harvey recovery and flood-control projects, controlling property tax rates, improving school safety, shoring up the retired teacher pension system and boosting funding for Texas schools and teacher salaries.

“The Legislature passed bills on lemonade stands and other small efforts, but a bill to ensure that kids don’t lose health insurance languished,” said Adriana Kohler with the child welfare advocacy group Texans Care for Children.

Combined federal and state spending on Medicaid in Texas will top $66.5 billion over the next two years. Although this reflects an $800 million increase from the current two-year budget, the state will actually spend $1.9 billion less.The overwhelming majority of the Medicaid bill is paid by the federal government.

About $3.8 billion will be spent on child welfare services over the next two years, a six percent increase from the current budget biennium. Last session, the Legislature provided a 16 percent increase in spending for child welfare services.

Texas has the highest uninsured rates for children, adults and women of childbearing age, according to most recent data available from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the Census Bureau. After years of declining uninsured rates, the rate of Texas residents without coverage jumped again in 2017 to 17.3 percent—an estimated 4.8 million people, 835,000 of them children.

Texas is among just 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid, contributing to the high uninsured rate. Expanding its services would make an additional 439,000 Texans eligible for health care services.

“The citizens of Texas are taking their tax dollars and giving them to the federal government, who then pays for Medicaid expansion in other states,” said David Fleeger, an Austin surgeon who serves as President of the Texas Medical Association. “I understand Medicaid expansion is not a political reality, but...we’re losing out, and we’re last on the list when it comes to a lot of health care issues.”

Headed back up…

The number of unaccompanied children who are being housed in Texas shelters increased slightly last month.

Federal officials say more than 144,000 migrants were apprehended in May—a 13-year high. More than half of those were families with children.  About eight percent were unaccompanied minors, who are sent to these shelters if officials cannot find US-based sponsors to take care of them.

In June, the Trump Administration cancelled English classes, recreational programs—including soccer—and legal aid for unaccompanied minors who are detained in federal migrant shelters, saying they faced budget pressures.

Dylan Corbett, Director of the Hope Border Institute, a faith-based community organization in El Paso, Las Cruces and Ciudad Juárez, said the move was another example of the Trump administration's attempt at "deterrence through cruelty."

"[It's] a demonstration of their willingness to use children as pawns in a politically motivated plan to inflict as much pain as possible," he said.

The number of children in Texas shelters has climbed slowly since a large decline in January, when a temporary shelter in Tornillo, near El Paso, was closed, amidst mounting public criticism. The hastily built tent city was designed for 360 children when it opened in June 2018, but by December it held 2,700 children.

Southwest Key, the controversial private contractor that operates a converted Walmart in Brownsville as a shelter for more than 1,500 children, is the largest operation in Texas that houses migrant children who have been separated from their parents.

On Dec. 19, state data showed 8,549 children in shelters for unaccompanied youth across the state. That number dropped to 5,659 as of February 21—after Tornillo closed. The most recent data shows 5,819 children in the 35 authorized shelters in Texas as of May 16.

Coming soon to a front yard near you…

Effective September 1, unlicensed lemonade stands—if they are operated by minor children on private property—will no longer be considered a criminal enterprise.

Governor Abbott has signed the bill that prohibits cities and neighborhood associations from enacting rules that prevent or try to regulate children who are selling nonalcoholic drinks—like lemonade—on private property. The law targets local health codes and neighborhood rules that intentionally or unintentionally ban the stands, or require permits for them to operate.

Support for such a law in Texas began to grow in 2015, after police in the East Texas town of Overton shut down an “illegal” lemonade stand that was operated by two young siblings who were trying to earn money to buy their dad a Father’s Day present.

The final version of the bill, authored by State Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, passed the Texas House and Senate unanimously. After he signed the legislation, Governor Abbott called the bill “a common sense law.”

Fessin’ up…

The Dallas school district has issued an apology to the high school valedictorian whose microphone was cut off when she attempted to draw attention to two black shooting victims at her school’s graduation ceremony.

“It is never our intent to censor anyone's freedom of speech,” the district said.  “Students have that right— Dallas ISD encourages it.”

Rooha Haghar’s valedictory speech gained national attention after her microphone was silenced—on orders of the school principal—after she dedicated a line of her speech “to Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice…”

“In hindsight, we realize this decision may not have been reflective of the core values we teach our students, as we work to educate leaders of tomorrow. For that, we apologize,” the Dallas district said.

Ms. Haghar was eventually able to deliver her full speech, after Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, gave her a platform on the Trayvon Martin Foundation website and on Instagram.

Terrible tigers, indeed…

Melissa Anderson, a 5th grade science teacher in Amarillo, has written a children’s book named “Terrible Tigers’” to help open up conversations with young children about active shooter situations.

Ms. Anderson actually started the book back in 2016, as part of a project to earn her principal certification.

“It doesn't actually talk about a shooter at all, but we know that the terrible tiger is the shooter. So, at the end, after you read the story, you can open up a conversation with the little kids. Hopefully, it's kind of a gentler way to talk about it," Ms. Anderson said.

She did not tackle the book alone. The pictures were drawn by her son, Jameson.

She also received help from Paul Bourquin, the Amarillo school district’s Director of Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“Any place, any kid could read it. It's for parents and teachers to use it, it also talks about if you're at a store or church,” Ms. Anderson added.

“Terrible Tigers” is currently for sale on Amazon.

Thanks, buddy…

For 6½ years, Eric Betts has been the unheralded editor of EduLege.  e caught—and corrected—my errors. He rewrote clumsily-written sentences. He kept the punctuation in line with the traditional Associated Press Stylebook. And he saw to it that EduLege was delivered in a timely manner.

Eric has my most sincere gratitude for everything that he has done to make EduLege an accurate, timely, and informative newsletter—while juggling all the other responsibilities that he has handled at TSPRA.

Anybody who has ever worked with Eric knows of his calm, steady temperament; his ability to be a team player; his professionalism…and his wry sense of humor.

Eric will be sorely missed by me—and everybody in the TSPRA family. But we’re also excited that he and his family have decided to take-on some new worldly adventures.

So, live large, young man, and thanks again for everything you’ve done to make EduLege and TSPRA the best in the biz.


EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.