The most precious asset of the State is its children. The primary responsibility of a state to its children is their safety, their health and their education. Unfortunately, the State of Texas is and has been for many children woefully lacking in all three categories.
The latest public crisis has been the state’s treatment of neglected or abused children. The primary problem in all three categories is the fact that our legislative leaders, governor and lieutenant governor continue to stubbornly believe there is some substitute for adequate funding. Unfortunately, there is not.
The most recent crisis in the public realm is the treatment of abused or neglected children by the agency charged with the responsibility of their care. A federal judge has found the foster children program in Texas an abomination and constitutionally lacking in addressing the needs of children. A recent senatorial committee given the responsibility of examining the problem spent a couple of hours debating whether or not the problem was related to poor management or lack of money. To me that almost seems to be a joke because a blind man could see that the children’s protective services in Texas has been overworked, underpaid and inadequately staffed for more than thirty years.
The recent revelation before the Senate committee was that there is a 57.7% turnover rate in the staff workers who investigate child abuse. I assure you these staffers are not simply quitting their jobs to stay home. They are leaving their state jobs because they are able to find better work elsewhere. Inadequate funding and staffing of the children’s protective agency has been causing workers to have to house children on couches at their offices or at police stations for lack of adequate foster homes or other facilities to accommodate these neglected children.
Even worse, the response time because of caseloads that are too heavy for individual investigators, has caused serious injury or death to several children throughout the past few years. This is because of lack of follow up where abuse has been indicated or suspected. A recent example of the price we pay for not attending to needy children who are on the street or neglected was the case of the 17 year old at the University of Texas who recently murdered a co-ed. This 17 year old fell through the cracks. Instead of being counseled, placed in a shelter or given treatment, he was left on his own to wander the streets of Austin and find residence in an abandoned warehouse. I doubt seriously if any amount of management changes in the agency would provide more foster homes or live-in residences for homeless children. Not only has the State of Texas, our governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature abdicated their duty as to investigating abuse of children, they have been complicit themselves in not doing what’s right for young people of Texas.
There have been three or more cases in the past thirty years in which courts have ruled that our system of funding public education does not meet the standards set by our own Constitution. One case came perilously near having our education system ruled unconstitutional under the federal Constitution. Our system of passing out taxpayer dollars for public education is inadequate, unfair and inefficient. Even after the courts have ruled repeatedly confirming this, the Legislature has sought ways to avoid the problem or claim its cure without adequately “ponying up” and adequately funding our public education system.
The failure of the Legislature to do what is right has led to spectacular growth in property taxes on homeowners and small businesses in Texas. There are some school districts in Texas that are wonderful. There are others that are woefully inadequate and are cheating young people out of a decent education or high school diploma. Only a brief look at our system tells you that some districts in Texas with a minimum effort at raising taxes are able to spend $11,000-$12,000 dollars a student on their young people while others struggle paying the maximum tax rate allowed by law and producing approximately $3,000 per student. While this continues to allow politicians running for office to boast of not having increased taxes in Texas, it is a lie, and it is shortchanging and cheating the future of many of our children—they have just pushed the responsibility down to the local level.
Lastly, Texas’ children are being cheated out of the opportunity for decent health care. Texas has more children who are uninsured and inadequately cared for than any state in the union. We probably do less for our children in need of health care than countries like Cuba and several other third-world countries.
Unfortunately for our children, the situation is not going to improve until those of us who care are able to persuade enough of our fellow citizens to demand better treatment of future generations of Texans.