UT students should pay attention to primary education bills this session

Claire Smith

On Jan. 13, the 84th Legislature of Texas convened. Following a gubernatorial campaign that focused heavily on potential improvements to Texas’s education system, thanks in large part to the platform of Democratic candidate Wendy Davis, the legislature will vote on several bills this session that regard primary education in Texas. UT students should pay attention to several upcoming bills because, as future taxpayers, it will affect members of our campus in addition to the general landscape of primary education in Texas.

Although Wendy Davis did not win the gubernatorial election, one of the biggest dreams of her education platform may be realized should the Legislature pass House Bill 124, authored by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. HB 124 proposes the expansion of free pre-kindergarten education to include children that are unable to speak or comprehend the English language, homeless, educationally disadvantaged or are/ever have been under the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services, in addition to the children of active duty servicemen and children who have lost a parent while serving in the armed forces (as the law currently stands). HB 124 is an enormous step forward in aiding the facilitation of early childhood education for children whose education is compromised by means outside of their control. 

House Bill 256, authored by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, also seeks to give opportunities to those whose opportunities for educational success are at risk. Although the state’s compensatory education fund already lends help to pregnant students and student-parents, HB 256 proposes an expansion of the monetary assistance for some of the state’s students that are most likely to drop out due to outside influences. HB 256 would provide child care services or assistance with child care expenses for student-parents at risk of dropping out of school, or help with paying the cost of day care or assisted transportation through a life skills program in schools. Aiming to help student parents at risk of dropping out of school, HB 256 would empower student-parents to get a high school diploma and ensure the care of their children while they’re at school. Though dissenting representatives may argue that it is not the responsibility of the state to fund the child care services of students who chose to become parents, HB 256 is only an expansion of aid that already exists—aid that the state has already decided it is responsible to provide. HB 256 is an investment in a future generation of taxpayers by giving the student-parents the greatest opportunity to succeed (and give back to the state) financially. 

Other bills, though well intentioned, may not be pragmatic. House Bill 387, authored by Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, proposes to take $1 billion out of the economic stabilization fund, colloquially known as the ESF or Rainy Day Fund, to distribute evenly among Texas school districts for the purpose of raising teacher salaries. As public servants who have dedicated their lives to the education of our society’s youngest generations, teachers certainly deserve the highest salary that can be afforded. Furthermore, every UT student owes their current educational situation to at least one teacher along their individual path to higher education. However, the Rainy Day Fund is not the place from which to draw these necessary funds. The Rainy Day Fund was created to be a savings account for the state, not a means of paying for normal funding. To use it as such will create a dangerous precedent for the state. The one-time extraction of $1 billion to increase teachers’ salaries would leave teachers unsatisfied two years from now when the 85th Legislature may not vote to extract another $1 billion to continue funding their increased salaries. Though increasing teachers’ salaries is a noble endeavor, and one I hope to see lawmakers pursue further, HB 387 is remiss in its proposal of using a finite and unreliably-fluctuating account to pay for a permanent increase in teacher pay. 

The upcoming legislative season may affect several changes in the landscape of primary education in Texas. Although members of the UT community have passed out of the direct influence of bills that endeavor to reform Texas’s education system, UT students should remain vigilant in their voice over bills that could affect them as taxpayers or parents.

Smith is a history junior from Austin. She writes about state politics. Follow Smith on Twitter @clairseysmith.