Riding the Texas Early Childhood Policy Roller Coaster

After 140 days of ups and downs, early mornings, late nights, and passionate debates, the 2017 Texas legislative session ended June 9th.

Texans Care for Children has been in the front car of the roller coaster, working diligently to advance early childhood policy issues. Today we offer you a quick look back on the session along with a list of which key children’s bills passed and which did not.

The biggest gains were made in suspension prevention for children in Pre-K through second grades, early childhood teacher certification, postpartum depression screening and in Child Protective Services (CPS)/foster care. However, the legislature also made significant cuts to Pre-K. More details about the legislative activity below.

Passed

  • Pre-K Eligibility (HB 357) - Pre-K eligibility now includes children of seriously injured or fallen first responders.
  • Limiting Suspensions (HB 674) – Limits were placed on out-of-school suspensions for students in grades pre-k through 2nd grade and schools now have more guidance on positive supports to improve the school climate.
  • Early Childhood Third Grade Teacher Certification (HB 2039/SB1839) – Teachers will be able to obtain Early Childhood-3rd Grade teacher certification, in addition to certifications currently available. This will give school districts greater opportunities to hire pre-k teachers with training in early childhood. 
  • Postpartum depression screening (HB 2466) – New mothers will be able to receive postpartum depression screening when they take their babies to well-check appointments that are covered by Children’s Medicaid or CHIP.
  • Child Protection/Foster Care – Children will have better continuity of education and access to higher education (HB 1640), youth will have better supports when they age out care (HB 4168), and foster parents will be included in education decisions (HB 3561).

Did Not Pass

Additional bills that would have improved early childhood policies in Texas did not pass.  These include one that would have set maximum class size and student-teacher ratios in pre-k; required the state’s child care licensing agency to collect data on caregiver-child ratios, another that would have offered free, full-day Pre-K; and a fourth that would have improved licensing standards on nutrition, active play and screen time in child care centers. 

Budget Cuts

The Texas Legislature took a big step backwards in its support of quality pre-k. In 2015, Governor Abbott championed a new voluntary grant program to support quality pre-k. The state appropriated $118 million that school districts could apply for and spend during the 2016-17 school year. Even though data showed strong support for the grant program and effective uses of the dollars all across the state, political tensions that overshadowed the session ultimately blocked efforts to continue the pre-k program. In the final days of session, the Legislature eliminated all funding for the pre-k grant program and, instead, passed a budget rider requiring all districts to comply with the grant program’s higher standards using existing funds.

What’s Next?

The Governor called a 30-day special session to begin July 18 that will include, among other things, proposed vouchers for special education students and extending the state's maternal mortality task force. We will continue to monitor the bills under consideration and work with the administration and others to advance strong early childhood policies over the interim.

-  Stephanie Rubin, Texans Care for Children

(June 22, 2017)