With the clock ticking on Texas’ 140-day legislative session, a statewide alliance of public education advocates is working with parents and lawmakers to promote family-focused reforms to the state’s troubled school system.
Texas Education 911 hosted a legislative briefing at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday that was packed with parents, educators, and public officials eager to discuss solutions to problems plaguing public education. Attendees left armed with information to share with lawmakers.
“Texas Education 911’s goal is to be a voice for parents at the Capitol, to let legislators know exactly what parents need … not what [lawmakers] think they can get done, but what we absolutely need,” said event organizer Melissa Beckett at a press conference following Tuesday’s briefing.
Beckett is the coordinator of Texas Education 911, which she describes as a movement. Allied organizations and individuals have been collaborating for the past year on recommendations they believe will help legislators fix Texas public schools.
“Our schools are absolutely falling apart,” Beckett said. “There’s no law and order. Our children are not safe physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.”
“Laws can cause a lot of damage, or they can do a lot of good,” she added.
Texas Education 911’s 13 legislative priorities fall into four categories: putting parents and families first, protecting Texas children, providing effective enforcement, and getting back to the basics of academic education.
The alliance has identified multiple bills that fully or partially meet their pro-parent education goals. Their advocacy efforts are focused on educating families and lawmakers about problems within Texas’ public school system, urging support for legislative solutions, and advising lawmakers on how to improve proposed legislation.
One hot-button issue that’s not on the group’s radar is school choice. Beckett said some allies support various school choice policies while others oppose them, but whatever happens with that issue, Texas public schools need help.
Tuesday’s four-hour briefing included presentations by parents, educators, school board members, and a variety of public education reform advocates.
Speakers covered a range of topics: inappropriate content in school libraries and classrooms, including invasive social emotional learning activities; increasing on-campus assaults due to failed school discipline policies; school administrators disregarding education laws because there’s no enforcement; and the need for a neutral third-party advocate to help parents with complaints against school districts.
Christin Bentley, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee who is spearheading the Texas GOP’s legislative priority to Stop Sexualizing Texas Kids, spoke about bills to keep sexually explicit books out of schools.
“This is not an isolated problem,” Bentley said. “Every Texas school district has explicit books in its library.”
She noted removing books from a school library is not “book banning.”
“We have a long history in this country of regulating speech that is harmful to children,” she said.
Profane content is not allowed on airwaves between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. because children might be present. Yet in Texas, when we know children are present in their schools, they are being exposed to content that wouldn’t be allowed on airwaves.
“This is not a parental rights issue,” she added. “Sexualizing children is abuse. The state has a compelling interest to protect kids from sexualization.”
The Texas GOP’s legislative solutions to keep inappropriate content out of schools include repealing the “obscenity exemption” for educators who distribute harmful materials to minors and creating mandatory library standards that prohibit indecent content.
Bentley also started a “Filthy Books” campaign, sending Texas lawmakers a different explicit book found in school libraries on every day of the legislative session.
Pro-parent education advocate Monica Cline, founder of It Takes a Family, warned about “critical theory” ideologies being promoted by Communities In Schools, the largest provider of behavioral health services to Texas’ Title I schools. The Communities In Schools program is embedded in Texas Education Code.
Cline said Communities In Schools is committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and has rolled out a DEI strategic plan to create “social change” in public schools—turning children into activists while receiving millions of federal and state tax dollars. She wants the third-party vendor defunded and DEI ideologies out of public schools.
Jamie Haynes, a conservative leader from the Texas Panhandle who started Texans Wake Up to inform parents about education issues, spoke about Amplify—a “supplemental” online reading product promoted to school districts by the Texas Education Agency.
Haynes read a laundry list of objectionable content found within the Amplify program.
“How many children have already been exposed to harmful material?” she asked.
Haynes called for more transparency and accountability from vendors and TEA, and said all curriculum should be accessible to parents “or any other Texan” to review.
Multiple parents at the briefing told their stories of dealing with unresponsive Texas school administrators.
Two moms shared how their daughters were assaulted inside Canyon ISD schools.
Stephanie Henninger said the boy who attacked her daughter was on probation at the time and committed two more assaults before he was removed from the school. She said the principal failed to notify law enforcement and even shredded reports about the incident.
After going through all three grievance levels with the district, Henninger said school officials acknowledged they violated multiple policies, but there was no accountability.
“It seemed the district’s only goal was to protect themselves and their brand,” she said.
She then filed a complaint with TEA. Three months later, the agency suggested she go through the local grievance process.
“Any hopes I had of them holding my district accountable quickly evaporated,” she said, adding that the principal under investigation was assigned as the investigator.
“None of the laws in place have any effect on reality,” Henninger said. “Districts know they are optional. Until this changes, our children will continue to suffer.”
Canyon ISD mom Amber McGarry had a similar experience with district administrators after a classmate trapped her first-grade daughter in a bathroom and tried to make her expose herself.
The principal told McGarry the boy couldn’t be moved to another classroom, and even accused her of harassment for continuing to ask questions.
“It was literally dismissed by leadership because it only happened one time,” she said. “How may times does it take before appropriate interventions are made?”
“We’ve seen an increase in major behavioral issues,” McCarry added. “Students are not held accountable, and teachers aren’t able to do much.”
Several Texas school board trustees, speaking on their own behalf, addressed issues they see within their districts.
Mary Bone, who serves on Round Rock ISD’s board of trustees, said many good laws already on the books simply aren’t being followed.
“There is no law and order in our school districts,” Bone said. “Tax dollars are spent however they want. It’s the Wild West.”
Danielle Weston, who also serves on the Round Rock ISD school board, advised adding teeth to any new reforms to ensure they are enforced.
State Rep. Steve Toth (R–Conroe) attended the briefing and gave a shout-out to the “mama bears” advocating for education reforms. “This building fears you ladies.”
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) received awards for three bills he filed that align with Texas Education 911 policy goals. Hall is one of several lawmakers the group has recognized for supporting strong reforms.
“We need people who are going to swing for the fences and stand up for parents,” Beckett said.
Parent-advocates Work with Lawmakers
A group of conservative North Texans traveled to Austin Tuesday to attend the Texas Education 911 briefing and visit with lawmakers about their priorities for reforming public education.
Frisco resident Jane Anne Sellars told Texas Scorecard she wants to see sexually explicit books kept out of school libraries.
The bill, dubbed the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources [READER] Act, puts the burden on school book vendors to rate books with sexual content as either “sexually explicit” (which would not be allowed in schools) or “sexually relevant” (which would require parental consent for students to access).
If a book vendor does not properly rate a book and it ends up in a school library, the vendor’s ability to sell books to Texas schools could be revoked.
“It sounds like they’ve put some good teeth in the bill and that it has a good chance to go through,” Sellars said.
HB 900 received a boost Tuesday from House Speaker Dade Phelan, who designated Patterson’s bill as one of his priorities.
Patterson reportedly told Sellars and other constituents who visited his office Tuesday that the chairmen of the House Public Education and Calendars committees are also “fired up” about the bill, and even some Democrats support the measure. He credited parents’ advocacy for advancing the issue.
Aileen Blachowski, a Prosper mom who has worked extensively with Texas Education 911 and spoke at the briefing, also backs Patterson’s READER Act and believes it is likely to pass.
But she told Texas Scorecard the most important change for families would be having an avenue for effective enforcement when parental rights or family sovereignty are violated or if there is harm to a child.
One option is Patterson’s House Bill 1924 to create a parent ombudsman for public education. A broader measure, Senate Bill 690 by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston), would establish an inspector general for education.
“An ombudsman begins to solve a lot of problems,” Blachowski said. “[It’s] oversight by a neutral third party to protect the interests of taxpayers and the families who entrust their kids to public schools.”
She said parents don’t know they’re entering a legal process when they file a grievance with their local school district, but the district does.
“Anything that levels the playing field will be a win for all Texas schools and families,” she said. “Even districts would save on legal fees.”
“Families and school districts are run ragged,” Blachowski added. “Everything is so polarized. It doesn’t need to be that way.”
Texas Education 911 is touring the state to talk about public school problems and legislative solutions.
North Texas Conservatives, which organized Tuesday’s trip along with Texas Education 911, has scheduled weekly bus trips to the Texas Capitol throughout the legislative session, which ends May 29.
The bill filing deadline is Friday, March 10.
Texans can use Scorecard’s Elected Officials Directory to find contact information for their representatives.