The health and welfare of public school students ought surely to be a nonpartisan issue. Yet the various responses to the terrible events at Santa Fe High School indicate deeply divided opinions about the appropriate response.
The non-profit Partnership for Texas urges state policymakers to bury their political differences and work with local school districts, law enforcement and communities to make public schools the safe and nurturing places they should be. In coming together in a bipartisan manner for lasting solutions, we hope that policymakers will consider the issue of school safety in the much larger context of which it is a part. Specifically:
- Declining state financial support of public schools has seriously undermined their ability to provide adequate counseling to students and school employees. No one can expect a school that has one counselor for every 482 students (the national average) to cope with the kinds of social and economic pressures faced by our students, much less to help them identify and execute their educational goals. We desperately need to boost resources to school campuses, counselors and teachers to help them identify and address student problems before they turn into tragedies.
- While the Legislature has begun to address the problem of mental health funding, years of state budget cuts have adversely affected our ability to identify and treat people with mental illnesses. The continuing stigma of mental illness in our society in general and the prohibitive cost of health care for many families contribute to this mounting crisis. We must treat public education and mental health as parts of the same process of nurturing emotionally whole and well-adapted young people who can take their rightful place in our society. There can be no throwaway children if we ever want to stop the scourge of violence.
- Recent curriculum reforms designed to give students more options for college or occupational preparation mean well, but if the state does not pay its fair share of educating children, we might as well return to the days of one-room school houses. This goes for higher education as well. We cannot hope to sustain the Texas Miracle and build a peaceful, open and secure society free of fear if we do not possess a first-class and well-financed K-16 education system.
- We should rightly demand that those who teach our children should produce good results, but we should also pay teachers what they’re worth. Teaching should be every bit as respected and financially rewarding as other professions. If we want high-quality professional work, and most agree that we do, we have to pay a professional rate for it.
- Texas continues to suffer from a depressingly high rate of poverty, well above the national average, with even higher rates for children. According to the Texas Medical Association, Texas also has the dubious honor of being “the uninsured capital of the United States,” with more than 4.3 million (623,000 children) without coverage. This has disastrous effects not only on the health care delivery system and the economy, but on the ability of families to provide the safe and healthy environment for their children to succeed in school and to live healthy and flourishing lives. We must make meaningful progress to combat poverty and lack of adequate health care.
Since the founding of our state, Texans have risen to every challenge. They will not flinch from this one. But we have a right to expect that our lawmakers will level with us about the real extent of our problems. As Winston Churchill put it to the U.S. Congress when England faced the Nazi onslaught alone, “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
Churchill knew that if you don’t give people the hard facts, they won’t understand what job has to be done. Let’s face the hard facts together, and together surmount them. Let’s turn away from the divisive political discourse that pits Texan against Texan, group against group, party against party, the state against local communities, and change the political discourse. Elections matter, but people matter much more.