A new school year is upon us in Texas, and students will soon fill our classrooms ready to learn. There is no greater investment than the one we make in our children. Unfortunately, we know that the need for our state to ensure we nurture young minds and support their families in the process is even greater after a two-year disruption of education due to the pandemic. Last year’s 87th Legislative Session saw the passage of many measures focused on improving Texas education in response to this challenge.
In this new age of digital education, it was paramount to me that we always protect the safety of our children and the rights of parents. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a Denton County mother of three who was concerned about increased exposure to technology and its impact on children. Together, we passed HB 3489 requiring the Texas Education Agency, in consultation with Texas Health and Human Services, to develop best practices for health and safety for digital devices in public and charter schools using evidence-based studies. School districts can adopt policies for integrated technology in a manner that honors the needs of all students, including considerations for youths with physical or intellectual disabilities as well as age-appropriate usage guidelines. Keeping the safety of our children at the forefront, HB 3489 also includes recommended practices for software to block access to inappropriate content so parents can feel more confident that their children are being protected.
Legislation was also passed to further reform STAAR testing as students and teachers grapple with the enormous burdens caused by COVID-19. Parents should be aware that starting this year, STAAR testing will be provided online pursuant to new the Texas Education Agency’s guidelines. You can read about the new system on their website.
Following the disruption to students and educators caused by COVID-19, Texas appropriated $46.5 billion for our schools, including funding to help students and schools impacted by COVID-19, supplemental services for special education, and allocating the federal CARES Act money that was delivered directly to schools statewide. Overall, this investment in public education reflects a roughly 20% jump from the previous session.
Additionally, lawmakers worked to increase the state’s contribution to the Teacher Retirement System to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for our cherished retired teachers. We also approved a much-deserved 13th check to assist with their retirement funding. I continue to support our retired teachers who are living on a fixed income while our nation endures historic high inflation.
Families are also feeling the heavy weight of this historically high inflation, especially during the costly back-to-school season. As a reminder, Texas Sales Tax Holiday is Friday, August 5 through Sunday, August 7, saving Texas families from paying taxes on items such as clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies. In 2013, I was successful in passing a bill to move this holiday a week earlier in the month, specifically allowing families more time before the start of the school year. This is a great opportunity to save money while also supporting our wonderful local businesses. You can learn more at www.texastaxholiday.org
The return of students to classrooms also means our roadways will be filled with precious young lives making their way to school. Please always watch for school buses, children crossing roadways, speed limits, and increased activities near our schools. Our wonderful and dedicated crossing guards who help guide students when having to walk across area streets are also dependent on us to pay full attention so that everyone arrives safely. Children are a precious gift, and it is our responsibility to ensure they have every opportunity needed to build the bright future that awaits them. Thank you for supporting our schools and most importantly, for inspiring future generations to learn every day.
Discover what your Texas Legislature is doing to advance education legislation and other policies at www.capitol.texas.gov.