Once again, it’s time for that bi-annual spectator sport known as the Texas Legislative Session.
The 87th Session of the Texas Legislature began on Jan 12, 2021 and will run through the end of May.
As Texans have historically been suspicious of laws and everyone who makes them, they only allow elected state legislators to meet for 6 months every two years.
The sessions are fast, furious, and an example of really, really bad public governance.
What usually happens is the first part of the session is taken up by committee appointments and the budget bill. Sometimes the budget bill takes as long as several weeks to pass.
That means that any bill must wind its way though committees in both houses and be voted on the floor of both houses in only 3 ½ months!
Getting a bill through the obstacle course that is the legislative session is usually a feat of horse trading, focus, endurance, and tenacity matched by few other experiences.
Often good bills aren’t flied soon enough and really crappy ones filed early do.
Why should you care about the state legislature?
Because states have an enormous amount of leeway in how they implement federal programs like special education and health care.
Let’s take schools as an example.
Texas is one of 17 states in the nation that have decentralized decision making with something called “site-based management”. This means that each school campus can make decisions about how to run the campus.
This sounds great in theory, but it has often proved disastrous for students receiving special education services.
In Texas, the principal is allowed an enormous amount of power. When that principal doesn’t know very much about the school’s obligations under special education law, it’s a huge problem for students & parents that can become an expensive problem for state taxpayers when those parents exercise their rights.
It is not uncommon for districts to spend hundreds of thousands of state tax dollars to defend a decision to deny services worth a couple of thousand dollars. And that’s because principals are not educated about school responsibilities under IDEA.
Site-based management is the reason why schools can have vastly different programs for children with special education as well as offer vastly different quality of programs.
Site-based management is why one school in a district can be wonderful, and the school down the street can be absolutely terrible.
The Texas legislature has made similar decisions about how to fund schools, what kind of programs to run for people with disabilities, what Medicaid pays for in the state, and more.
If you’re a parent of a child with a disability, you’ll know most of those are have been problematic.
How Does This Help Me?
Since the legislature is in session, some bills relating to education, insurance and programs for children with disabilities will need public support.
There are currently 18 bills that have been filed relating to special education. Everything from teacher training, to review BIPs annually (aren’t they already supposed to be?), to grant money for private school and therapies for children with autism, and more.
By letting your legislators know which bills you support, you will help the bills get passed, which will eventually help you once they are passed.
And, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I learned 15 years ago when I was helping to get the autism insurance bill passed. It only takes calls from 10 constituents on an issue for a legislator to start paying attention and support that issue.
Your voice does make a difference.
How Do I Participate?
- Click “who represents me in Texas”
- Get the name of your state (not federal) senator & representative.
- Create a contacts in your cell phone: one for the senator, one for the representative.
- Put their Austin phone number in contact.
- If you want to be extra active, you can call and ask for the name of their education aide and their health care aide. Put those names in the notes.
- When you see an action alert to support or oppose a bill, call both your senator’s and representative’s offices. Calls are way more effective than emails. The aides simply do not have the time to read all those emails.
- When you call, ask to speak to the relevant aide (either their name or their area). Tell them that you support or oppose bill number X. Bills are known by their numbers. EX: HB1302 , SB 124 (HB= House Bill; SB=Senate Bill). The call should take you all of 3 minutes. I often called in while I was in the school pick up line.
- Congratulate yourself on making your voice heard.
Usually, you will deal with the aides rather than the actual representative. And I will tell you those aides can do A LOT, so don’t write them off just because they sound young. Their bosses depend on them to research issues, write speeches, and create position documents.
They work really hard during the session for peanuts and by May start counting down seconds until the end of the session.
Is There An Issue That I Could Mention Now?
Yes, there are a couple.
Issue Numero Uno: The TEA Grant
As you may know, I sent you some information about the $1,500 your child might qualify for in grant money. In the original FAQ that I reviewed in November when the grant was first released, only the child’s special ed eligibility or specific diagnosis was going to be used as a criterion. Between November and January, TEA added that only students who qualified to take the STAAR-ALT would be considered.
I think this is horribly unfair. There are so many students with learning disabilities who are really struggling with the virtual learning environment and really need these funds for tutors.
Please let your legislators know.
Issue Numero Dos: Difficulty getting your child’s special ed services
Have you been told by the school that they can’t provide services for one reason or another? Is the school dragging their feet on services that they were supposed to implement?
The legislature gave Texas schools an extra $13 billion in 2019. Let them know that you haven’t seen where that money is being used for your child in your district.
Like this? Please share it with a friend.