Senate panel focuses on funding of public education
AUSTIN — When Texas legislatures meet every two years, lawmakers’ singular, must-do assignment is to produce a state budget.
Toward that goal, the Senate Finance Committee held meetings on Feb. 11, 12 and 13 to work on Article III of Senate Bill 1. That article focuses on the public and higher education parts of the state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
The meetings, replete with acronym-spattered expert testimony from the Texas Education Agency, the Teacher Retirement System and others, dealt with funding areas within public education. Lumped together, public education funding almost certainly will require more than half of the state’s general revenue. The ballpark estimate of total general revenue is $112 billion.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said SB 1 includes
— $2.4 billion to fund enrollment growth for public education, based on an estimated 65,000 additional students per year;
— $3.7 billion in additional funding for teacher pay raises;
— $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on recapture under the so-called "Robin Hood" system;
— $8 million, an increase of $3 million, for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a partnership between technology-based companies and public education; and
— $230 million to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for our retired teachers through TRS-Care.
Nelson also mentioned SB 500, the supplemental appropriations bill, which as presently written includes $100 million for school safety, more than $600 million to address Hurricane Harvey-related expenses for public education and $300 million to address the Teachers Retirement System pension.
"As a former teacher,” Nelson said, “I want to ensure that our schools have the resources necessary to properly educate our students and prepare them for success. Education is the great equalizer, and we need to make sure all Texas students have access to a quality education," Nelson added.
Panel OKs mental health bill
Senate Bill 10, legislation to create the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium, was unanimously approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Feb. 12. Next stop for the bill will be consideration by the full Senate.
Authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, the bill would leverage the expertise of Texas’ medical schools to bolster mental health resources for Texas children and adolescents. The Senate budget, as outlined in SB 1, would allocate $100 million in new funding for SB 10.
Gov. Abbott declared the legislation an emergency item in his State of the State address. All 31 senators are signed on as co-authors of SB 10.
"Texas has been making strong progress on mental health with innovative programs that expand access to care. This bill will help better identify children and adolescents with mental health challenges and connect them with the treatment they need before they become a danger to themselves and others. Under this legislation we can also better address our workforce needs and support mental health research,” Nelson said.
In addition to creating the consortium, SB 10 would:
— Establish mental health "hubs" at health-related institutions consisting of psychiatrists, social workers, referral specialists and other mental health professionals;
— Establish the Child Psychiatry Access Network, allowing pediatricians and primary care providers to consult with mental health experts on treatment options for their patients; and
— Establish a program allowing youth to be screened for mental health conditions through telemedicine.
SB 10 also would:
— Increase residency opportunities for psychiatry students in community settings;
— Expand and coordinate mental health research at our health-related institutions; and
— Direct that judges be educated about mental health resources in their communities.
Viewer displays more data
The Texas Railroad Commission on Feb. 12 announced that its public geographic information system map viewer now displays data for multiple oil and gas wells in a defined radius area set by a user.
Surface and down-hole data on multiple wells can now be downloaded and opened with commonly used computer software. Those who have an Internet connection may research information for multiple wells in a specifically designated area, rather than one well at a time.
The map viewer may be accessed online at http://wwwgisp.rrc.texas.gov/GISViewer2/.