In past legislative sessions, THSC has fought tooth and nail to pass reforms for homeschoolers and Texas families. This year, the powers that be promised that things would be better. Instead, they were worse.
Under the leadership of former House Speaker Joe Straus (2009-2018), legislative sessions were a constant struggle to protect homeschoolers and Texas families. Despite this, THSC was able to make substantial reforms for homeschoolers and families in 2015 and 2017.
Speaker Straus retired in 2018, theoretically ending a decade of obstruction to pro-family reforms in the Texas House. At the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, State Rep. Dennis Bonnen was elected as the new speaker of the House.
Grand promises were made that 2019 would be different from prior legislative sessions. Lawmakers are hailing this legislative session as the most successful session in decades because of the passage of school finance reform and property tax reform. What many of them don’t tell you is that pro-family reforms were knowingly left to die.
THSC championed three major reforms this year, joining forces with several pro-family groups and participating in a strong bipartisan coalition on a fourth reform.
- The Family Unity Act: Protecting the right of families to raise their children.
- The Child Trauma Prevention Act: Reforming CPS laws to ensure due process for families.
- UIL Equal Access (Tim Tebow Bill): Granting homeschool families equal access to public school extracurricular activities, as 35 other states currently do.
- Ending juvenile curfew laws: THSC was part of a bipartisan coalition that sought to end juvenile curfews, which disproportionately affect homeschool students.
The Failures of the Texas House
All four bills died. Only two, the Child Trauma Prevention Act and the bill to end juvenile curfews, even made it through their respective House committees. And both bills that passed committee ultimately died in the House Calendars Committee after languishing for weeks.
Calendars is tasked with scheduling bills for a House floor vote after they have passed committee. Staff and legislators were told specifically that Calendars, a favorite bill-killing tool of former Speaker Straus, would no longer be used to block legislation. That was false.
Both bills passed their normal committees without a single witness testifying against the bill. Nevertheless, they died in Calendars.
An unknown member of Calendars stalled the Child Trauma Prevention Act, despite assurances from all 11 members individually that he or she was not the one blocking it. Unofficial rules on Calendars allow one member to kill a bill single-handedly and anonymously. The juvenile curfew bill died in Calendars as well.
The Family Unity Act died in the Texas House following a committee vote for which several supporters of the bill were absent.
The University Interscholastic League (UIL) Equal Access Bill was killed in the House Education Committee when members were afraid to cross the High School Coaches Association (HSCA), which opposed the bill. Dozens of families testified in favor of equal access and hundreds visited the Capitol to support the bill during the session.
UIL equal access has gained universal support among conservative lawmakers and strong majority support among Democratic lawmakers. In fact, moderate and liberal Republicans have been virtually the only holdouts. Conservative lawmakers support it on the basis of liberty and free-market economics. Democrats support it on principles of fairness and equality.
However, moderate Republicans often have little allegiance to either ideology and simply do what is politically expedient. As a result, homeschoolers had more Democratic support on the House Education Committee than Republican support.
While these types of failures have been characteristic of the Texas House for years, the promises that this session would “be different” made those failures all the more notable this year.
The House leadership did not actively oppose these pro-family reforms, as was the case under former Speaker Straus. Rather, they simply did nothing to prioritize the bills and allowed them to die. At the end of the day, the Texas House did nothing to protect Texas families.
The Failures of the Texas Senate
The Texas Senate, although ideologically supportive, performed no better.
Expecting that the House would “shape up” and do its part, the Senate repeatedly declined to advance legislation and waited for bills to come over from the House instead.
As a result, none of THSC’s priority bills even received a hearing in the Senate until the session was nearly over. Only the Child Trauma Prevention Act was voted out of its Senate committee, although it was so late in the session that the bill never reached the floor.
On every bill, the Senate told THSC to “wait” for the House bill to advance to the Senate. That strategy proved foolhardy when the Texas House declined to act as well.
The Senate has long prided itself as being the more pro-family branch of the Texas legislature. Based on the actual results of the 2019 legislative session, the Senate didn’t just fail Texas families, it did even less than the Texas House.
The Texas Senate also did nothing to protect Texas families.
Lawmakers act as if passively supporting homeschooling and Texas families makes them heroes. The sad reality is that pro-family, pro-homeschool bills failed in 2019 not because of strong opposition, but rather because lawmakers did nothing.
Even Governor Abbott did nothing when he was needed. He called a special CPS workgroup during the interim whose recommendations resulted in the filing of the Child Trauma Prevention Act. However, Abbott inexplicably declined to act when made aware of how the bill was being blocked in the House Calendars Committee, thereby allowing the bill to die.
Over the next two years:
- Families will have children removed from safe homes and have parental rights wrongfully terminated because the legislature did nothing.
- Families will have their God-given right to raise their children trampled in Texas courts because the legislature did nothing.
- Homeschool families will continue to be denied UIL equal access because the legislature did nothing.
- Homeschool families and low-income families will continue to be targeted by draconian curfew laws because the legislature did nothing.
Lawmakers will tell you that they support homeschoolers and Texas families. And some actually do. However, the message from the legislature as a whole is painfully clear: You are not a priority to them.
Homeschoolers have been the first line of defense for Texas families for more than 30 years. The homeschool community has a strong legacy of defending the right of Texas families to raise their children. While these failures of the Texas legislature are inexcusable, homeschoolers are resilient.
Over the next year and a half, we will be working to elect (and unelect) leaders based on their performance on behalf of Texas families. We will be back again in two years, fighting for Texas families during the next legislative session.
Did Anyone Fight for Homeschoolers and Texas Families?
A select few stand out from the crowd.
State Rep. James Frank, State Rep. Jeff Leach, State Sen. Bryan Hughes, and State Sen. Pat Fallon all took it upon themselves to prioritize Texas families and the homeschool community.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also made substantial efforts behind the scenes to spur action on several of these bills, although the “wait and see” approach by the Senate at large brought those efforts to no avail.
While the legislature failed miserably this session to deliver much-needed reforms for Texas families, not every legislator is on the right committee to have pushed those pro-family reforms across the finish line.
A handful of additional legislators genuinely offered their help when the baton came their way, but their efforts proved to be too little too late compared to the immense inaction of their peers.
What Do We Do Now?
In 2020, lawmakers will come to you and ask for your vote. If results like these are what we can expect in the future, homeschoolers have no reason to lift a finger to re-elect many of those leaders.
We believe in empowering parents to raise and educate the next generation of leaders, which is why THSC is Keeping Texas Families Free. Stay tuned for updates on the coming 2020 primary election and general election to see which lawmakers are worth your vote and which are not.