On Sunday, March 1, Texas recognized the first annual Texas Girls in STEM Day. The day marks a chance to celebrate and encourage the participation of girls in this state in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and is the result of House Bill 3435, passed by Representative Rhetta Bowers during the 86th Regular Session. The legislation encourages school districts to embrace programs, ceremonies, and class instruction that emphasizes women in STEM-related careers.
Texas Girls in STEM Day gives many young girls the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and dive deeper into subjects they may not have been encouraged to explore otherwise. We are confident that this will help increase participation in STEM subjects by giving names, faces, and credit to the Texas women who are currently succeeding in their STEM careers. Thank you to Representative Bowers and the participating institutions for making yesterday the first of many successful Texas Girls in STEM Days.
Image courtesy of Representative Bower’s office.
Discrimination remains an active and poisonous force throughout Texas. House Democrats have the responsibility to fight policies that oppress members of our community. It is our duty to create an equitable playing field, where all voices, religions, traditions, and races are represented and celebrated.
DeAndre Arnold’s story spurred a long-ignored conversation in Texas. As a graduating high-school senior, Arnold was suspended for refusing to shave his dreadlocks and will not be allowed to walk at graduation. Now a national icon, Arnold’s is sadly not alone. In Pearland, a high school student had to choose between filling in his shaved hair with Sharpie or suspension. A 4-year old in Tatum was given instructions to cut off or braid his shoulder-length hair, otherwise he could wear a dress and be referred to as a girl.
These school policies are blatantly discriminating against students of color, and the defenders of these hateful practices are falling back on the age old adage, “that’s how it’s always been done.” That is a pitifully lazy excuse that ignores the pain and legacy of hair discrimination.
Last week, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC) held a press conference to announce their plans to file the CROWN Act “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” in the 87th Legislative Session. Rep. Ron Reynolds (D- Missouri City) and Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland) will be jointly filing this legislation. The CROWN Act expands the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Education Code to include anti-discriminatory policies in the workplace, K-12 public schools, and charter schools. Three states have already adopted this policy change and it has been introduced in both federal chambers. Twenty-two additional states are now considering passage.
“These conversations are just becoming public now… People in our community were having these conversations around the kitchen table or in beauty salons and barber shops.” – Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland)
Texas House Democrats fully support TLBC’s plan to file protections against discriminatory measures in our schools. We urge schools to take a hard look at their own hair regulations. Are your policies protecting students or unjustly hurting them?
Photo courtesy of KUT.
This past Monday, a shooting at Texas A&M Commerce took the life of two women and sent a 2-year old boy to the hospital. This tragedy comes just three months after a shooting following a Texas A&M Commerce homecoming celebration that left 12 injured and two people dead. In both instances, no suspect has been convicted of murder, leaving the campus and Greenville community mourning without answers.
Texas students face significant challenges going to school — be they economic, physical, or cultural. The last worry on their minds should be whether or not they can feel secure on their own campus.
As State Representatives, our job is to ensure we do everything we can to prevent tragedies such as these. Our primary task must be to support our students and provide safe environments that promote innovation and learning, not fear. Texas A&M Commerce students noted that, despite statewide policies, the campus’ gun safety regulations are clearly in need of revisiting.
Since 2016, Texas has had its “campus carry” law in effect. The law allows:
- Licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus, and
- Gun owners to store handguns in safes within dorms and university residences.
While there are some restrictions to the concealed carry law, including mental health and student service locations, we need to seriously consider the implications of these laws and if they are costing students their safety. Additionally, we must continue pursuing common-sense policies that can help us put an end to gun violence.
Photo courtesy of Washington Post.
Earlier today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate. Based on projections for the state’s economy, Comptroller Hegar certified $119 billion in state funds available for the coming biennium and budget cycle. He noted that the number could shift some before the end of session.
Today’s revenue estimate shows that the Legislature should fund a significant, added investment in public education, which in turn would reduce pressure on property taxpayers.
While the Legislature must first deal with unpaid bills stemming from the current budget, today’s estimate, combined with the $15.4 billion projected balance in the Economic Stabilization Fund, demonstrates there are resources available to craft real solutions for Texans on a number of major issues.
Texas teachers deserve better pay and we need to address health care costs for current and retired educators. We need to make college more affordable and accessible if we are to have the skilled workforce our state’s economy demands. Our state’s Medicaid managed care system must be improved to better serve medically fragile Texans. The recovery from Hurricane Harvey requires our attention, as well. These are just a few examples of important issues that must be addressed this session.
The revenue estimate provides a blueprint of what is possible. It’s up to the Legislature to build a budget that reflects our values and commits the resources and ingenuity of our great state to achieving real solutions for each and every Texan. That’s what Texas House Democrats will be fighting for.
On Wednesday, the Texas Education Agency will roll-out its first “A-F” ratings for every school district in the state of Texas. Campuses won’t receive a letter grade until 2019, but will receive a numeric score on a 0-100 scale.
The letter grades, which come out as students and families prepare to go back to school, will be issued at a time when Republicans in control of the Texas Legislature continue to underfund our local schools. Consider:
- Texas is relying more on more on rising property taxes to cover the state’s share of funding our students and local schools (Source: CPPP)
- TEA and the state of Texas need to find up to $3.2 billion to get our state’s special education services up to standards (Source: Houston Chronicle)
- Our retired teachers haven’t received a pay bump in over a decade, and Texas – which contributes less to its state pension fund than any other state – would need to identify $786 million annually in order to ensure our retired teachers get the support they deserve (Source: Austin American-Statesman)
I expect that Texas’ A-F ratings for school districts will stir up plenty of discussion about Texas’ local schools. In that conversation, we should remember what is possible — that Texas, one of the richest economies in the world, could and should be doing much more to invest in the future of our kids and our local schools.
I am a parent, a small-business owner and a school board member at Lytle ISD. I am close to the operational challenges in my district. I can only assume that our state leaders don’t know the facts about school districts like mine; otherwise, they couldn’t possibly be pushing the legislation they promoted this session.
We are a small rural district with a population that’s 75 percent economically disadvantaged. Our property values are lower than many parts of the state, and we are on the low end of dollars allotted per student by the state. Even so, we are committed to engaging and sustained learning for our students rather than subjecting them to standardized test drill-and-kill preparation, like many schools. We have been recognized statewide for our academic achievements.
To continue reading this story go to the Austin American-Statesman.
Upon receiving their property tax notices, Texas homeowners seem ready to channel Peter Finch in the 1976 movie “Network” by throwing open their windows and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But at whom should that ire be directed?
Some wolves in sheep’s clothing at the Texas Capitol are pointing their fingers at your locally elected officials and pursuing legislation to tightly restrict cities. But don’t be fooled; it’s the wolves themselves who have driven up your property taxes.
To continue reading this story go to the Austin American-Statesman.
This headline from the Texas Tribune says it all: “Texas House votes to cut business tax that funds public schools.”
Last Thursday, Texas Republicans brought forward a bill that would eventually phase out the franchise tax. Built upon the idea of a fake surplus, the bill would count GR-dedicated funds as “extra” money, and use those calculations to create a total by which the state would cut the franchise tax. The Legislative Budget Board analysis found that the bill could create as much as a $3.5 billion hit to our state’s general revenue fund and, thus, our public schools in just a few years.
On Wednesday, April 19, the Texas House of Representatives will consider a very serious issue on the House floor, and a very made-up issue in a House committee.
The school finance bill that comes to the House floor on Wednesday marks the first time in a decade that the Texas Legislature has taken a proactive step towards fixing how we pay for our local public schools. Education is a right for every child, and we need to do more to make sure our students and teachers have the resources they need in the classroom. As it comes to the floor, the bill puts an additional $1.6 billion into our local schools, and makes some long-needed improvements into the formulas that put us on the path to reforming our school finance system.
After the debate on the House floor, the State Affairs Committee will meet to discuss thezombie bathroom bill — a piece of legislation that hurts everyone and just doesn’t seem to want to die. Despite outspoken opposition from Democrats, voters, and Texas businesses, there are some Republicans in the Legislature that think the best way for us to spend the last six weeks of session is to pass discriminatory laws that hurt our economy. The bathroom bill is a waste of time, and I hope the committee hearing is the last time we discuss it during session.
Throughout the debate on the budget, House Democrats were able to add a number of successful amendments addressing our top priorities and helped make the budget better.