College of Liberal Arts

Post Legislative Policy Review by the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis

Wed, Dec 16, 2015
Photo by Larry D. Moore (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo by Larry D. Moore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Texas Policy Reports: Recent Justice, Education Reforms Not Enough 

Recent legislation to address education and justice issues that disproportionately affect Texans of color could have been better crafted to serve all Texans, according to two policy reports released by the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis (IUPRA) at The University of Texas at Austin.

The two reports analyzed five bills from the 84th Texas Legislature, including House Bills 2398, 2684 and 1036 concerning juvenile and criminal justice and House Bill (HB) 4 and Senate Bill (SB) 4 concerning public education.

“We chose to track and research these bills because they aimed at systemic issues that profoundly and disproportionately affect black folks and other people of color — poor-quality prekindergarten, escaping poor primary and secondary schools, criminalization of children and parents for truancy, school law enforcement training and police-involved shootings,” said IUPRA Policy Coordinator Victor O. Obaseki.

HB 2398, signed into law in June, decriminalized truancy offenses for minors by establishing civil truancy courts and increasing school responsibility in dealing with truancy, while also establishing judicial donation trust funds for students or families with truancy or other minor offenses. According to the justice report, these warranted changes did not go far enough to eliminate over-penalization of parents and remove problematic discretionary power from schools and prosecutors in truancy cases.

Similarly, the justice report indicated HB 2684 was well intentioned but insufficient. The bill, also signed into law in June, requires law enforcement personnel in a limited number of school districts to undergo 16 hours of school- and child-related training. Though the training aims to be comprehensive and includes mental health information, the report suggests that the limited number of districts in which officers must be trained and the lack of cultural competency training profoundly reduced the potential effectiveness of the legislation. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has written draft training curriculum required by HB 2684 and is accepting public comment on the curriculum until December 22.

“Without a cultural competency component, both generally and with regard to the unique mental health needs of students of color, there is a real risk of not improving school safety for black children and other students of color with this training,” Obaseki said. If amended effectively, both laws could weaken the school-to-prison pipeline, he said.

HB 1036, which went into effect on September 1, created a reporting system for officer-involved shootings in Texas. The IUPRA justice report presumed that the bill would create more law enforcement transparency involving shootings. However, amendments during the legislative session, such as omission of mandatory reporting of a victim’s race in police shootings, created shortfalls. The institute has created an online database to track these shootings. 

In a second IUPRA report, researchers analyzed the prekindergarten reform bill, HB 4, which provides grant funding to support qualified districts, and the failed “school choice” bill, SB 4, which would have created tax incentives for private funding of scholarships for students trying to leave failing public schools.

“The Pre-K reform bill sensibly aimed to improve really low-quality Texas programs with additional funding, but the required program improvements are not enough or universal, the funding is subject to the whims of the Legislature, and the language of the law opens the door for high-stakes testing seeping into our preschools, largely attended by low-income students of color,” Obaseki said, adding that SB 4 could have worsened underfunding of public schools.

The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis, along with the African and African Diaspora Studies Department and the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, comprise the three branches of Black Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. To read both briefs, visit the institute’s website

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