By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
The recent general elections saw a record number of Texans voting, surpassing the votes in the 2016 race. Over 10 million Texans casted their vote in the 2020 presidential race, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State website. The results are expected to impact all groups, especially Texas children.
In order to decipher what the results mean for Texas children at risk, a zoom conference titled What Do Elections Mean for Texas Children? was held Nov. 4. The conference was hosted by Texas Leadership Council, an organization made up of child focused organizations and community leaders to ensure Texas policies that support families are effective and equitable for the most vulnerable children, along with the organization Children at Risk, a research and advocacy group for children and families in Texas.
The forum was moderated by Dr. Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk.
“I think when we look at the elections very carefully, the political climate in Austin really dictates what happens to children and families in our state,” Sanborn said. “We live in a red state for better or worse. The idea that we have elections that are a little bit moderate in nature has been interesting for children. I think that we have a political climate that is changing in the state of Texas and that has made it good for children and families.
“We still have lots of needs but I think as we go into the next legislative session and with the past election, what we see are that there are still a lot of possibilities where we might have been on defense on some things in the state of Texas the moderate nature of our elections I think we will still be able to go on offense in terms of fighting for better schools, better child care, better health coverage, possibility of Medicaid expansion is very real in the state of Texas today both because of the political climate and because of COVID.”And so those are a couple of things we will go into this next legislative session ready for and that is a big deal for us.”
Sanborn anticipated that there are several issues that will impact children.
“In the end, it is all about mitigating poverty,” he said. “Sixty percent of the children who grow up in the state of Texas are low income kids. One out of every 10 children born in America are born in the state of Texas. So we have a lot of kids in our state that really have a lot of obstacles to overcome. So for us, we look and we break down what are the systems that have to change to better serve those kids? So it starts with early education, making sure that there is enough subsidized child care in our state making sure that mom and dad can work and when those kids are in that early education they are getting high quality education so that they can be ready to go academically.
“Then its public schools K-12, are we doing everything possible to make sure that every kid no matter where you grow up that you have access to a good school. Dallas has done pretty well in terms of serving low income kids but we know it can do a lot better if the state sort of says we are going to focus on low income kids. We have seen a little bit of that but we haven’t seen a lot of that. That’s the area that we are targeting as well and then health care. While children have Medicaid coverage and CHIP coverage, when a parent is denied coverage it is harder for moms to birth a child then they have no coverage for six months or six weeks after the birth so that becomes hard on the child as well.”
Sanborn said Texas is also behind when it comes to funding mental health.
“When we think of young families in our state there is a lot of hardship out there when it comes to health care and mental health,” he said. “We are 49th in funding in the United States. Texas in regards to mental health during the last two sessions there have been heavy infusions when it comes to mental health and we went from 49th to 49th so we are still not getting the infusion that we need.”
The event started with an election debrief moderated by Sanborn. The panelists included Bob Garrett, Austin Bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News; Jason Sabo, founder of Frontera Strategy; and Deborah Zuloaga, president and CEO of United Way of El Paso County.
Garrett gave his view of the election results.
“We did have a bigger turnout in Texas,” Garrett said. “It is fiercely contested on both sides and a lot of people got engaged. We’ve been hearing a lot in Texas in recent years we’re not a red state we are a non voting state I think we got above 11 million votes in a presidential election, it’s still not great but better turnout there. While you can say that the Republican domination of the state is slowly decreasing, it is evident Trump carried it by six points rather than nine points last time.”
Sabo explained what this means for families and agencies serving children.
“What happened yesterday was a box point, ultimately you can make the argument that from a policy perspective if you like what the legislature did in 2019 last time the legislature met, we numerically might be seeing more of the same,” he said.
All of the panelists agreed that keeping young people engaged in voting is important for future elections as well.
Afterwards, Mandi Kimball, vice president and director of Public Policy Government Affairs for Children at Risk, broke down what this Texas Legislative session means for children and families.
“This is truly an opportunity to see how we can unite our voices and advocate for children and families for the upcoming session,” Kimball said. “This is a focus on Children at Risk and the Texas Family Leadership council pulling priorities together which really cover the gamut.
Early childhood education particularly child care has recently captured the attention of many during the COVID pandemic from parents trying to figure out how they were going to work when the schools weren’t open and businesses trying to figure out how they can get their employees in and public officials as well trying to figure out what can be done during the pandemic.
Kimball said investing in child care has a direct and indirect impact on the Texas economy. Because of child care needs, women with children 5 years old and younger were less likely to be part of the workforce. Moreover, working women with young children were more likely to have to leave the workforce. Therefore, it is imperative that the federal government expand access to reliable, affordable quality child care for low-income families.
Kimball then recommended some policies that would benefit Texas children.
“Policy recommendations that we are pushing is one that requires subsidy providers to participate in Texas Rising Star,” she said. “This is extremely important when we look at accountability and how government dollars are being advocated. And also increases access to quality child care. We also need a cost of quality study. When we are looking at reimbursement rates when we are looking at the child care industry it is unclear of the business model and how much it costs to run a quality child care business. We also want to build upon what happened last year around HB 3 and full day Pre-K really strengthening public partnerships gathering the data that we strengthen the early childhood development system,so that we are not working in silence. Real strategies can be implemented so that eligible children have access to quality care.”
Discussing the importance of focusing on educators’ workforce, Kimball talked about the need to develop strategic statewide plans and goals geared toward strengthen the early childhood education workforce with credentials and living wages. She went on to explain the need for local flexibility for contractors to allow local communities to prioritize and reserve seats for vulnerable children – especially infants and toddlers.
As far as public education, Kimball said children do best when they are in school and when they are engaged in high quality teaching. And that chronic absenteeism impacts a student’s ability to learn and decreases the likelihood that a student is going to graduate on time.
Kimball said that Texas does not have a clear definition for “chronic absenteeism.” Yet, the state reported its average for chronic absenteeism at 12.5%, with Black students having the highest rate, followed by White students.
Some of the policy recommendations Kimball suggested for chronic absenteeism include to define chronic absenteeism so that we can have a name and address the situation and to put chronic absenteeism on the at risk category statute and she said this is important so that we can provide support and incentives to schools so that they can intervene and address the issue.
“We need to ensure reporting making sure we have data so that strategies can be developed and implemented so that all children can be successful,” Kimball said.
“During the pandemic too many children lack access to the internet and are unable to learn virtually which is still the situation for many and our recommendation is to focus on collecting data and expanding access to broadband. The Texas legislature is going to be in a difficult situation in regards to the budget. We clearly have a shortfall and the legislature is going to have to figure out how are they going to financially support the education reforms from HB 3 going to figure out how they are going to financially support schools with COVID related issues so it is paramount that public education funding is protected and that there are no cuts.”
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the country and the problem is getting worse. Children who do have access to health care tend to be healthier, are more likely to graduate and have a higher chance of earning a higher income, according to Kimball.
Kimball then looked at equity and racial disparities in Texas.
“Texas is faced with harsh realities,” she said. “Infant mortality rates for Black babies are two times higher than those of White or Hispanic babies and Texas is home to four cities that lead the nation in education gaps when we are looking at White students compared to students of color.”
Four of the top 10 U.S. cities with the largest gaps between Whites and all students of color in Texas are Austin, Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth.
Also, although African Americans make roughly 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 60% of the COVID-19 cases in related deaths according to studies.
“Black children are nearly two times as likely to be investigated by CPS in Texas and nearly two times as likely to be removed as compared to White children,” Kimball said.
“Multiple agencies work to help Texas families achieve a quality standard of living. However, not all Texans are faced with the same opportunities due to systemic racism. States must play a role in addressing these inequities.”
Kimball recommended the following racial equity policies:
Require the Sunset Advisory Commission to assess the agencies efforts to reduce racial disparities when under review and to require childhood racial disparity impact statements at the request of the lieutenant governor or speaker of the house of representatives.
Kimball said her biggest concern going into this legislative session is regarding the budget.
“I think that the budget is going to hinder some of these activists and now is not the time to cut the budget such as in public education,” she said.
The next panel featured topics on Community and Business Engagement and featured Susan Hoff, chief impact and strategy officer at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas; Dr. Michael Kelly, vice president of programs at Paso del Norte Health Foundation; and Chris Wallace, president and CEO of North Texas Commission.
Hoff explained how nonprofits and businesses will be impacted by the election results.
“In Dallas and San Antonio, we had a significant amount of school bonds that the elections passed,” she said. “Dallas had a 3.5 billion dollar school bond which is significant for Dallas and 2 out of 5 propositions passed. Key to both of these initiatives is they had significant business backing. If you think of chambers, business councils, corporate leaders backing these locals there are significant initiatives as well as philanthropic support as well.”
Kelly explained how he thinks this election will have an impact on that continuing effort to support systems change from the philanthropic side.
“I do think philanthropy has a role here,” he said. “Foundation priorities because of this election will change due to this disruption. I do think emergency food is going to be out there quite a bit more and it is a question on how we fund it, questions about what we are doing here and is there a better way. I think that is going to ring through K-12 education as well as higher education. I think the child care we are going to ask is there a better way. I think homelessness is how we care and treat homelessness people need to change. I think emergency readiness in our cities and counties need to change.”
Wallace then directed the conversation to how the recent election impacted how business saw its roles.
“Business world will continue to be engaged,” Wallace said. “Despite any election results, businesses must continue to engage and be at the table. Particularly here in Texas, we are a low regulatory state and are business friendly.”
Sabo concluded the presentation with what do the elections mean for Texas children and the upcoming 87th Texas Legislative Session.
“Things have changed dramatically and I am inspired by all of this,” Sabo said. “We have to get to work. We do not know what the next legislative session in Texas is going to look like but we do know that it is going to begin on Jan. 12. Their mission is to do one thing and one thing only which is to pass a budget”.
Sabo then explained how advocates can be effective during the next eight months.
“How do you become effective in this Texas legislative session as an advocate,” Sabo asked. “First, you need to mobilize the grassroots. If you never reached out and mobilized people during the legislative session, this is the time. Now is the time to build your email list, print your list and when legislative session begins be ready with your list to contact people so you won’t be behind. Also, be able to be prepared with oral testimony and the written word with limited hearings. Plan on targeted small group visits with highly relevant offices.”