Advocacy Blog

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The ATPE Government Relations Team is hard at work to push issues important for educators and public education in Austin and Washington DC.

Follow our advocacy blog (originally published at www.teachthevote.org) for all the latest education news and information:

 
July 19, 2018

The Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met yesterday at the Capitol. The committee has previously discussed resources and programs to help schools prevent school violence and school infrastructure and design to address school security. This time, the committee turned its attention to mental health, and expert after expert shared that more resources are needed. The complete committee charge:

Examine the root cause of mass murder in schools including, but not limited to, risk factors such as mental health, substance use disorders, anger management, social isolation, the impact of high intensity media coverage — the so-called “glorification” of school shooters — to determine the effect on copy cat shootings, and the desensitization to violence resulting from video games, music, film, and social media. Recommend strategies to early identify and intercept high-risk students, as well as strategies to promote healthy school culture, including character education and community support initiatives.

It is no surprise that the need for resources was a regular theme in yesterday’s hearing. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that up to 1 in 5 children in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year. That means up to 20% of the children in our Texas classroom and schools are faced with a mental issue of some kind. Those can interfere with a students ability to learn, result in classroom disruptions, or even become a threat to school security. Testifiers relayed resources in various forms to address these issues.

Suggested resources included more counselors, psychologists, programs, and training, all of which cost money – money that many on the committee didn’t sound keen on spending. In a previous hearing, a retired principal spoke about the effect large class sizes have on a teachers ability to know her students individually. Addressing this challenge is another issue that would require funding. Read more about the hearing and the issue of funding in this piece from the Texas Tribune.

The committee has one remaining charge to study prior to issuing a report to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on its findings. The final charge asks the committee to consider whether Texas’s current protective order laws are sufficient or more should be done to aid the temporary removal of firearms from those posing an immediate danger. No hearing has been scheduled at this time.

July 17, 2018

The ATPE state officers were in Austin yesterday to offer input on Governor Greg Abbott’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, State Secretary Tonja Gray, and State Treasurer Jimmy Lee were invited by the governor’s staff to participate in stakeholder meetings covering a range of topics pertaining to school safety.

ATPE state officers (from left) Tonja Gray, Jimmy Lee, Carl Garner, and Byron Hildebrand at the Texas Capitol.

The meetings consisted of stakeholders representing a number of different industries, organizations, and interests. All were asked to share their perspectives as practitioners and experts in their respective fields. The discussion covered a broad array of topics dealing with school safety, including law enforcement in schools, the school marshal program, emergency response plans, campus security programs, mental health, students who disrupt the classroom, social media tactics, and training for educators and students.

Carl Garner shares feedback on the governor’s school safety plan.

ATPE leaders shared feedback from their perspectives as educators in the classroom. For example, Garner provided context with regard to students who are removed from the traditional classroom due to disciplinary reasons. When his school noticed that many of their alternative education program students became repeat offenders, they instituted support and intervention services that helped such students assimilate back into the traditional classroom. These students can be drawn to the structure of smaller classrooms and more individualized support that differs from many large, and sometimes overcrowded, classrooms. The supports on his campus are aimed at stopping the cycle and addressing the needs of these students to prevent ongoing behavioral issues or threats.

ATPE will continue to follow school safety developments and report on relevant information. At the 2018 ATPE Summit last week, the importance of this issue was solidified. The ATPE House of Delegates passed a main motion that reiterated ATPE members’ desire to remain advocates for their students and informed voices on the important and timely topic of school safety. We are committed to supporting those efforts.

The Governor’s Office will hold one additional school safety meeting on Wednesday. This meeting will focus on aspects of the governor’s plan that pertain to gun safety, background checks, and gun ownership.

July 13, 2018

Teach the Vote will be taking a hiatus from our regular weekly wrap-up while the ATPE Governmental Relations staff is attending the ATPE Summit in Dallas. The wrap-up will be back next week. A big THANK YOU to all our regular readers who look forward to getting this digest each week, as we look forward to bringing you more of what’s going on with public education in Texas directly to your email. Until our next digest on Friday, July 20, please visit the Teach the Vote blog directly and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates and breaking news.

July 10, 2018

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday morning to discuss recommendations from the working group on outcomes, lead by Todd Williams. Commission Chair Scott Brister opened the meeting by requesting suggestions for how to pay for the various recommendations the commission has received.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting July 10, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez was the first invited witness, and provided an overview of how public education in Texas is funded. Currently, the state pays 36 percent of the total cost of funding schools. Excluding local recapture, the bulk of funding – 51 percent – is carried by local property taxes. Recapture, which is also local funding but was counted separately for the purposes of Lopez’s presentation on Tuesday, amounts for three percent of funding. The remainder comes from federal funding.

According to TEA’s numbers, state funding on a per-student basis has remained flat since 2008. When adjusted for inflation, this represents a decline in actual dollars. In the same time period, the biggest increase in funding has come from local property taxes. Legislative Budget Board (LBB) Assistant Director John McGeady explained that while the LBB and TEA use different calculations to determine state spending, both sets of data show the state’s share of funding has steadily declined over the past decade.

Williams introduced the same recommendations the working group approved last week, which include outcome-based incentives at the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade levels. The 3rd grade reading gateway would be supplemented by increased funding for schools with high populations of economically disadvantaged and English learner students that could be used to provide full-day prekindergarten. The 8th grade incentives would target reading and Algebra I, and 12th grade would focus on indicators of post-secondary readiness.

The recommendations from the outcomes working group also include a performance pay system that would reward teachers who complete more rigorous educator preparation programs, provide higher pay for educators according to locally-developed, multi-metric performance evaluation programs, and incent administrators to direct the highest performing educators into campuses and grade levels with the greatest need.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who has argued against increasing school funding, argued fiercely against objective data presented by Williams that indicate Texas will miss its “60×30” goal by two decades years. The goal is to ensure that 60 percent of Texas 25- to 34-year olds obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030. According to current rates of postsecondary attainment, the state will not reach this goal until 2051. Bettencourt argued businesses rely on net migration into the state, despite the fact that this necessarily reduces the number of high paying jobs available to students educated in Texas.

Williams told the members he would welcome feedback on the recommendations, and suggested more testimony could be taken, specifically from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regarding 60×30 progress. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) suggested the working group could collect comments and produce a revised draft.

Williams estimated the cost of implementing the recommendations at $1 billion annually, or $2 billion per biennium. This would gradually increase to $2.5 billion annually over a ten-year period, as districts meet stretch goals and additional districts phase in the recommendations. This could ultimately save the state money by higher-paid workers contributing more state taxes, and fewer state resources would be needed for uninsured medical costs and incarceration. The expenditures working group is expected to meet August 9 to work on recommendations. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who leads the expenditures working group, said more than 200 recommendations have been received. The full commission does not plan to meet until September.

Brister said the commission will not hold a vote until the total cost of recommendations can be calculated and until the commission can determine from where the money to pay for them will come.

July 06, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Josette Saxton

This week Josette Saxon, Director of Mental Health Policy at the statewide, non-profit, non-partisan, multi-issue children’s policy organization, Texans Care for Children shared why it”s critical that the Legislature and local school districts act to promote the mental well being of Texas school children.

Noting alarming data on youth suicides, Sexton writes:

“The pain and despair behind these numbers is heartbreaking, but it should also be a call to action. We all need to work harder to understand and address the causes of this crisis. We also need our policymakers to strength our children’s mental health policies, including policies to support students through our schools.”

Read more here.


On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s working group on outcomes met to deliberate and discuss recommendations based on previous testimony.

The group structured incentives around three core principles: “Ready to learn, ready to teach, and ready to earn.” Goals for the working group include ensuring graduates don’t require remediation and go on to obtain a post secondary credential. In order to achieve these goals, the working group recommends new weighted funding for certain student groups and suggests the state encourage school districts to implement performance pay programs to attract and retain educators. You can read more about the group’s recommendations in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. 


 

Next week, Teach the Vote will be taking a hiatus from our regular weekly wrap-up while the ATPE Governmental Relations staff is atrending the ATPE Summit in Dallas. The wrap-up will be back the following week. A big THANK YOU to all our regular readers who look forward to getting this digest each week, as we look forward to bringing you more of what’s going on with public education in Texas directly to your email. Until our next digest on Friday, July 20, please visit the Teach the Vote blog directly and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates and breaking news.

July 05, 2018

Josette Saxton

By Josette Saxton, Director of Mental Health Policy, Texans Care for Children

Both before and after the horrific school shooting in Santa Fe, we’ve been glad to see state leaders and school district officials recognize that student mental health efforts must be included in their work on safe and supportive schools.

New CDC data on suicide attempts among Texas high school students underscore how urgent these efforts are, how widespread mental health challenges are in Texas schools, and that mental health strategies must reach all students on campus.

Nearly one of every eight Texas high school students attempted suicide last year.

Twelve percent of Texas high school students attempted suicide in 2017 according to disturbing new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2017 Texas youth suicide rate was substantially higher than the national average of seven percent and higher than the previously reported Texas rate of 10 percent in 2013.

While kids from all backgrounds are at risk, the data show that certain youth have a particularly high risk. Among Texas high school students, 19 percent of black kids and a shocking 44 percent of gay or lesbian kids attempted suicide in 2017.

The report includes a number of other data points on teen health and behavior. It shows an increase in the already-high number of Texas high schoolers who reported feeling sad or hopeless: 34 percent in 2017 compared to 28 percent in 2013. It also shows that many Texas high school students — around 19 percent — reported that they were bullied on campus, similar to the number reported in 2013.

Schools are key to supporting kids’ mental health.

The pain and despair behind these numbers is heartbreaking, but it should also be a call to action. We all need to work harder to understand and address the causes of this crisis. We also need our policymakers to strength our children’s mental health policies, including policies to support students through our schools.

Schools play a critical role in addressing children’s mental health because they are so central to our kids’ lives. A growing number of Texas school districts have recognized the importance of addressing student mental health in order to prevent suicide, boost academic performance, improve behavior, and support children’s healthy development. State leaders also increasingly recognized the importance of addressing student mental health. Governor Abbott emphasized the importance of student mental health in the plan he recently released for safe and supportive schools, for example.

The new data is further evidence that significant mental health challenges are very common among Texas kids. Providing more students with access to mental health professionals is critical, but because these challenges are so common it is also important to go beyond only serving those students with the most visible and acute needs.

Schools – with state support – should offer mental health professionals and implement campus-wide strategies for all students.

We encourage more Texas school districts to implement school-wide practices that support all students’ mental well-being and help them develop skills for managing feelings of sadness, stress, anger, and conflict. If students are struggling with depression or anxiety, schools can provide or help connect students and their families to mental health services they need to be safe, healthy, and engaged in school. We are pleased to see that a number of school districts are already implementing these strategies.

The Legislature should help more school districts take action. Just as the Legislature established a Texas School Safety Center to help districts handle security issues, it should establish a center that focuses on positive school climates and school-based prevention and intervention strategies to reduce the likelihood that students will face barriers to their learning and health, like mental health concerns, substance use, challenging behavior, and violence. The Center would give districts and the state a trusted place to turn for training and technical assistance on practices shown to create safe and supportive school climates. The Legislature should also provide funding for mental health professionals, such as counselors and social workers, as Governor Abbott suggested.

We look forward to working with educators, district officials, legislators, parents, and other Texans on this critical issue.


Texans Care for Children is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan, multi-issue children’s policy organization that seeks to drive policy change to improve the lives of Texas children today for a stronger Texas tomorrow.

To learn more, visit txchildren.org or follow @putkids1st on Twitter.

July 03, 2018

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Tuesday in Austin to consider recommendations based on more than 60 hours of testimony heard by the commission since its first meeting in January.

School finance commission working group on outcomes meeting July 3, 2018.

Group leader Todd Williams began the meeting reading from a detailed report that suggested the state should invest more dollars in specific strategies to accelerate reaching the “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students go onto post-secondary success by the year 2030.

Common themes from testimony included the importance of early intervention, since only 60 percent of students arrive at school kindergarten-ready. The report indicated teachers are the most important in-school factor in student outcomes, and funding should ensure that every teacher candidate has access to high quality educator preparation programs, ensure they stay in the profession and classroom, and ensure they address student challenges as early as possible.

In order to achieve post-secondary achievement, the report suggested funding should ensure graduates do not require remediation in higher education and that achievement of a post-secondary credential is not only expected, but achievable, affordable and supported. In addition, the report suggested systemic incentives, including ensuring that financial incentives are tied to the achievement of our most critical outcomes.

The working group’s formal recommendations encompass three core principles: Ready to learn, ready to teach, and ready to earn. According to the report, funding should include some specific incentives within the formula funding tied to specific goals at critical gates.

The first of these incentive gates is 3rd grade reading, and the working group is recommending providing an additional weight for low income and/or English language learners for pre-K through grade 3. At each district’s discretion, dollars from this 3rd grade reading investment would be sufficient to be used to fund full day pre-K, tutoring interventions, expanded dual language programs, specialized multi-year early childhood professional development, and a longer school year.

The second incentive is funding for every 8th grader who meets the state’s standard in reading and Algebra I. This is expected to help increase college readiness. The third incentive is funding for every high school graduate assessed as college or career ready, who successfully achieves industry certification or enrolls in college or the military. Incentives for rewarding low-income student achievement should be higher in recognition of the greater associated challenges. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) was emphatic that incentives should not further increase inequity in the school funding system.

The fourth incentive is to provide the optional ability for districts to implement multi-measure evaluation systems and fund higher teacher distinction levels to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The working group noted the issues with current salary levels in recruiting and retaining teachers, and expressed the goal that districts be able to pay top-quality teachers more. Melissa Martin, the only teacher on the commission, said she’s torn over performance pay. Martin voiced concern that evaluations are property constructed and not totally subjective, which could introduce campus politics into the process.

The working group included the following additional recommendations:

  • Adjust compensatory education funding (currently $3.9 billion annually) in recognition that “free and reduced lunch” percentages are a very simplistic measure and do not adequately reflect the varying levels of poverty that exist throughout the state.
  • Strongly consider eliminating the five end-of-course (“EOC”) STAAR assessments and replacing with either SAT or ACT assessments that can measure growth based on a pre-SAT/ACT assessment given in 9th grade vs. a SAT/ACT assessment given in the 11th grade.
  • For districts choosing to implement a full day Pre-K program, consider crediting the appropriate full-day attendance for purposes of funding within the Foundation School Program.
  • TEA financially incent dual language strategies and disallow ELL pullout strategies as an accepted approach toward ELL instruction for larger districts exceeding 5,000 students (this subset of districts educates roughly 80% of all Texas students).
  • Align the current CTE weight of 1.35 (equivalent to $2.2 billion annually) toward CTE programs of study that are vigorously tied to the attainment of living wage credentials aligned with current workforce need and/or which provide students with critical financial literacy skills.
  • Amend legislation to require that failing ISD elementary and middle school campuses may be reconstituted after three years with an ACE-like school reconstitution plan (where better educators have been purposely placed at the struggling campus) with the state providing matching funds to reduce district costs.
  • To reduce prison recidivism and its associated costs to the state, TEA should amend the accountability system to incent school districts to help formerly incarcerated individuals receive their high school diploma or GED.
  • State funding should target professional development training towards schools/districts willing to launch blended learning and personalized learning pilots that help students matriculate faster than their peers if necessary, providing net savings in the long run to the state due to paying for less seat time.
  • Schools should be incentivized by the academic accountability system by creating a separate post-secondary readiness academic distinction. In addition, additional state funding should be awarded if the high school achieves the post-secondary readiness academic distinction.

The working group also expressed support for researching the costs associated with providing all-day pre-K for teachers’ children. The report concludes, “For us to succeed requires very substantive, immediate action on the part of the state (emphasis in original document) – we simply cannot “tweak” our K-12 system to meet this critical objective. Only by making strategic, impactful investments above current levels in the key areas noted, and implementing the innovative structural formula changes that are necessary, can we ensure Texas remains a thriving economy that all of its citizens can participate in.”

The recommendations carry an estimated $1 billion annual price tag, which would average out to about $200 per student and a 4 percent increase in the current basic allotment – still below 2008 inflation adjusted funding levels. This would gradually increase to $2.5 billion annually by 2030, which would average out to $450 per student, which would only be achieved if all districts implement performance pay programs. According to the report, this would still place Texas in the lowest quartile of per-student spending compared to other states.

The report argues these measures could pay for themselves by creating up to $4 billion in incremental potential yearly earnings and up to $250 million in additional state sales taxes for each yearly graduating cohort. Better-prepared graduates will earn more money and pay more in taxes. The report suggests success could also reduce growth in the approximate $12 billion the state spends each year in uninsured medical costs and incarceration.

The report, as amended, was approved with a unanimous vote of the five working group members. You can read all of the recommendations in the full draft report from the outcomes working group here, however some of the recommendations were altered or struck in Tuesday’s meeting. This article contains the most up-to-date versions of the recommendations. The full commission meets July 10.

June 29, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week the Supreme Court struck a decisive blow against public sector unions in its ruling in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31 (AFSCME). With its strong right-to-work laws, Texas remains unaffected. However 27 states including Illinois, where the case originated, will have to change the way unions collect “agency fees” — fees collected by unions to cover the cost of collective bargaining. It’s important to note that ATPE is not a union and supports the right of employees to choose whether or not they wish to pay fees or belong to a professional association.

“There really isn’t a direct impact from this ruling,” said ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter in this Austin American-Statesman article about the ruling. You can read more about the ruling in this blog post by Exter. ATPE’s official statement on the ruling can be found here.


House Public Education Committee meeting June 27, 2018.

School safety and mental health were the focus of two House committee meetings this week. On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee met to discuss interim charges on school safety and emergency preparedness. The committee heard testimony from members of the public education community, mental health advocates, and safety product vendors. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath spoke about school marshals and partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, and Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen spoke on how physical security affects schools safety. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins recapped the hearing here.

On Thursday, a joint meeting of the House Public Education Committee along with the House Public Health Committee was held to discuss an interim charge on providing mental health services for children. The hearing included testimony from a panel of high school-aged activists, as well as school counselors, a representative from the community based organization Communities in Schools, and Billy Philips, who testified on behalf of the Texas Tech University Health Science Center’s new initiative that uses telemedicine to provide assessment and referral to students displaying behavioral issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the hearing in this post. 


Education was the central focus of several actions on Capitol Hill this week. An education funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 was marked up by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. While the bill must go through several other phases before a version of it would ultimately become law, this early version of the bill demonstrates how the Senate intends to pay for education.

A bill reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act was passed out of the committee on Thursday. States with CTE standards aligned with those in the reauthorized bill would be able to receive funding at around the same levels under the proposed FY 2019 budget.

Lastly, the Federal Commission on School Safety commenced a series of regional listening sessions aimed at addressing the issue of school safety from the federal level. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also announced its intention to apply for a federal grant entitled the STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training Program, which is administered by the Department of Justice.

Read more about this week’s activity in the nation’s capital in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a special election on July 31 to replace former Senator Carlos Uresti, who resigned earlier this month after being convicted of 11 felonies, including money laundering and fraud.

As of Monday’s filing deadline, eight candidates have filed to run to represent senate district 19 for the remainder of Uresti’s term, which runs through Jan. 2021.

Special elections are unique in that multiple candidates from the same party can be on the ballot with multiple candidates from other parties. In this instance, four Democrats, three Republicans, and a Libertarian will be on the ballot.

The Democratic candidates include current state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio; current state Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio, who lost his bid to continue representing his current house district during the primaries largely due to the scandal surrounding his brother; former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine; and Charlie Urbina Jones of Poteet, who has previously run unsuccessfully for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District.

The Republican candidates include Pete Flores of Pleasanton, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016; Jesse Alaniz of Harlandale, a former president of the Harlandale ISD board; and Carlos Antonio Raymond of San Antonio, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for House District 117 in March.

The Libertarian candidate is Tony Valdivia of San Antonio, one of two SD 19 representatives on the State Libertarian Executive Committee (SLEC)

June 28, 2018

This week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on collective bargaining topped the education news coming out of Washington, but across the street, Congress was working on a few public education issues as well. A U.S. Senate committee gave early approval to a future education budget, a separate Senate committee advanced a bill to revamp the federal role in Career and Technical Education (CTE), and the Trump Administration continued its work on school safety.

Federal education funding

The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies marked up a bill this week to address funding for the education department in fiscal year 2019 (FY19). While the bill still has to get the approval of the full appropriations committee, the full Senate, and then the U.S. House, it is an early indicator of how the U.S. Senate intends to fund education in the future. On the other side of the building, the House has its own version of an FY19 education funding bill sitting in the same spot as its senate companion (having passed out of the subcommittee). Overall, the Senate bill would provide $71.4 billion in funding for the Department of Education, which represents a $541 million increase, while the House bill grants $71 billion, a $43 million bump. The respective committees have summaries of the House and Senate bills posted for more information.

Rewrite of the federal CTE law

Those funding bills would stabilize funding for CTE at or just above current levels for FY19, and a separate bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is gaining considerable steam. The White House and other major players have backed the legislation, and it easily passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday. The bill would give states more authority in crafting their goals, as long as they are aligned with requirements under the bill, but states would be required to meet those goals within two years or face losing funding. A House version of the bill has already made its way to the Senate, where it has sat while the Senate works on this version of the bill. One loud voice opposing the Senate version is the American Association of School Administrators, who called the bill too prescriptive and a step away from the flexibility advancements made under ESSA.

School safety commission

Meanwhile, the Federal Commission on School Safety began what is expected to be a series of regional listening sessions in Lexington, Kentucky this week. The remaining sessions have not been announced, but the commission intends to host more, calling this week’s meeting the “Midwest” session. The commission was announced by President Trump in March following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It is chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and is also made up of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. The commission has already conducted some of its work in Washington both publicly and through private meetings.

Back in Texas, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a federal grant opportunity pertaining to school safety: the STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training Program grant is available through the US Department of Justice. TEA said it intends to apply, but also shared that the opportunity is open to individual ISDs. More information on the grant can be found here.

June 28, 2018

The House Public Education Committee met jointly with the Public Health Committee Thursday at the Texas Capitol in order to discuss interim charges related to students’ mental health. The joint hearing focused on the following charge:

  • Consider testimony provided at the May 17 House Public Health Committee hearing regarding improving mental health services for children. Identify specific strategies that would enhance overall school safety. Study ways to help parents, youth and primary care providers support school personnel in their efforts to identify and intervene early when mental health problems arise. In addition to school-based trauma-informed programs and those that treat early psychosis, consider the benefits of universal screening tools and expanding the Child Psychiatry Access Program (CPAP). Make recommendations to enhance collaboration among the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, local mental health authorities, and education service.

House Public Education Committee meeting in a joint hearing with the House Public Health Committee June 28, 2018.

Invited witnesses representing school counselors recommended adding more counselors, social workers and licensed specialists in school psychology (LSSPs), as well as reducing the number of non-counseling duties assigned to counselors – such as bus duty and cafeteria monitoring. One expert testified that counselors and mental health professionals should be used appropriately, and warned of potential stigma associated with referrals for certain mental health services. State Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Cindy Burkett both expressed concern that stigma should not prevent students from receiving the mental health services they need.

Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) admonished witnesses to make specific asks and supply hard numbers along with their recommendations, rather than make vague suggestions. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) noted that the issue seems to be one of capacity, with the current number of counselors lacking sufficient time and resources to achieve maximum effectiveness.

A representative from Communities in Schools (CIS) testified to the importance of wraparound services and incorporating these into emergency response plans. Several members of the committee praised CIS for its work and voiced their continuing support. Lisa Descant with CIS of Houston testified that case management services cost about $218 per student annually, which is funded by a combination of public and private money.

Billy Philips with the Texas Tech University Health Science Center testified regarding the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral (TWITR) Project. The program provides school-based screening, assessment and referral using telemedicine for students that come to their attention. The program also coordinates handoff to support services and follows certain kinds of outcome data. Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) screen students who are referred due to behavioral issues and connect them to the appropriate care resources, which often include getting the right medication. Students may be removed from school for therapeutic services or for security reasons.

Public testimony consisted of a mix of counselors and individuals performing similar support services. A panel of high school students who became activists following the Santa Fe school shooting impressed lawmakers by offering specific recommendations, such as making additional counselors available and offering ways to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

State Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) polled the students whether they would use an app to anonymously report cyberbullying, which is among the ideas under consideration. The students indicated they would use an app for this purpose, provided that they could be confident reports would be acted upon and follow up.

A number of witnesses also asked to provide teachers with trauma-informed instruction training, which they believe will help teachers better identify and help students who may be experiencing trauma at home that could lead to serious academic and behavioral issues.