Pete’s Periódico: School is back!

Originally published on September 4, 2019.

Welcome back to school! To teachers and parents, that is a happy statement––students might disagree. The Legislature certainly agrees; the 86th Legislative Session was a victory for Texas education. From pre-K to 12th grade, mental health and teacher pay, every aspect of education was addressed this session.
A system of efficient public schools is a requirement defined in the Texas Constitution. One of the main priorities this session was revamping the school finance system. Both sides of the aisle agreed that the Texas school finance system is outdated and underfunded.
In Texas, schools receive funding from three sources: state government, local school districts, and federal government. The first two share the bulk of the cost, with more of the burden falling on local government. Last budget, the state’s share of funding was 38%. We listened and responded to superintendents, principals, and teachers asking for state assistance by increasing the state share of funding to 45%.
The Texas budget appropriated $72 billion for public education, about 29% of the total state budget. This is an increase from the previous state budget of 20% — an additional $11 billion to develop Texas students. The base allotment a school district receives per student jumped from $5,140 to $6,160, the biggest increase in a decade.
We know that outside of parents, teachers play the largest impact on a child’s education. Additionally, in this booming Texas economy, it is imperative that school districts are able to compete financially and compensate their teachers well. $2 billion of the education budget is allocated to enhance compensation for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses.
The Texas Legislature understands the importance of early education and investing in full-day pre-K for qualified, low-income students. Additionally, we are making sure schools and our children are as safe as possible. We passed legislation to strengthen emergency response protocols, improve school facilities standards, and provide schools more funding for school safety efforts. We also created a statewide registry, maintained by Texas Education Agency, that will record any school employee that engages in an inappropriate relationship with a student so the perpetrator cannot be hired at any other Texas school.
Finally on education, the Legislature established the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium to leverage higher education expertise in the state to improve the mental health care systems for Texas children. We also increased mental health training for educators and other school professionals to aid in early identification and intervention, emphasize the importance of mental health education for students, and improve access to mental and behavioral health services through school-based mental health centers and the hiring of mental health professionals.
In other news, I met last week with the leaders of the San Antonio State Hospital (SASH). SASH is beginning renovation after receiving $190.3 million in funding from the Legislature, a top priority of mine. The new building will focus on patient and employee efficiency and safety with capacity for 300 beds; this funding begins Phase II of a three phase plan. After these discussions with Health and Human Services Commission, SASH leaders, doctors, and the architect team, I am confident the renovated SASH will greatly benefit San Antonio and the surrounding communities.
A reminder Election Day for Texas Constitutional Amendments––and various municipal propositions depending on where you live––is November 5, 2019. The last day to register to vote in this election is October 7, 2019. Use the following website to check your voter registration, find polling places, and more: https://www.votetexas.gov/.
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