Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. August 7, 2022.

Editorial: UIL needs to mandate heat-safety measures for Texas high school football

We must protect student athletes from heat stroke, no matter what climate they live in.

High school football practice is back for the fall season, but the summer heat hasn’t gone anywhere. This year’s heat wave has been setting records.

It’s critical that we do everything we can to keep our players safe. That means it’s time for the University Interscholastic League to mandate more heat-safety protocols.

The UIL requires certain heat-safety protocols and requires safety training for its athletic coaches and sponsors. But it leaves many other safety judgment calls up to individual school districts.

Reporting by The Dallas Morning News shows that many districts aren’t adopting heat-safety best practices.

One such protocol is Wet Bulb Globe Temperature monitoring: a tool that measures heat-risk factors beyond the heat index.

The Korey Stringer Institute, which is committed to preventing sudden death in sports, lists it among its best practices for heat-illness prevention. But it’s not a UIL requirement.

“The question is not whether Wet Bulb Globe Temperature monitoring is a good thing or a bad thing,” Jamey Harrison, UIL deputy director, said. “We discuss it in our guidance as a good thing. The question is whether it should be mandated at the state level.”

The UIL and its medical experts agree that these protocols are effective. But they don’t support requiring them.

Texas has a vast geography, Harrison said, and the climate varies immensely across the state. That makes a one-size-fits-all rule difficult, he said.

But it would also seem to be all the more reason for a sophisticated climate monitoring system.

We understand the reluctance to disadvantage teams in hotter climates. But ultimately, student safety should come first. And at the very least, teams should have the tools on hand to understand and prepare for the conditions.

Cold water immersion tubs should be an easy measure to adopt. The tubs can help to save an athlete experiencing exertional heatstroke. At Guthrie High School, where an 18-year-old student died in 2020 during football practice, a tub was not on hand.

Our colleague Lia Assimakopoulos reported that, combined, the tubs and the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature monitoring would cost about $300. That’s a drop in the bucket.

Of course, each school district and each team will do things a little differently. But heat safety is crucial, no matter the climate.

No one does high school football quite like Texas. Our safety standards should also be the best.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. August 4, 2022.

Editorial: Conservative event brings Trump circus to Texas. GOP leaders would be wise to stay away

The Conservative Political Action Conference, known in politics as CPAC, began Thursday in Dallas and ends Sunday. Former President Donald Trump will give the headlining speech Saturday night, and major Texas Republican figures such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton will speak at various points.

It makes sense for state officials to fraternize with their ideological brethren. But the event, particularly with Trump boasting the coveted slot, highlights some of the worst trends in conservative politics.

In some ways, the CPAC agenda reflects recent conservative victories. Several speakers will tout the Supreme Court victory overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. But many of the speakers and topics reflect an agenda that’s more consistent with Trump’s GOP, obsessed with election-fraud fantasies and featuring the party’s fringe, conspiratorial, drama-laden wing, such as Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

It also flirts with outright authoritarianism. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks Thursday. His nationalist fervor has attracted sympathetic conservatives here, to the point that CPAC even held an event in Hungary.

But Orban has embraced racial politics, decrying a “mixed-race world” in words that rang of antisemitic terms. It’s unclear what lessons some conservatives hope to draw from a small, homogeneous Eastern European country. To borrow a line from “Gladiator,” the 2000 film: “He enters Rome like a conquering hero, yet what has he conquered?” Heck if we know.

Other agenda items seem downright nutty, such as “You’re Next: The Rise of the Democratic Gulag” and “Socialists Cheat: Mandating Election Laws.” We’re for American pride and election integrity and we even understand the inclination to market concepts in a catchy, memorable way, but these highlight fringe ideas and players.

And of course, there’s plenty of bashing President Joe Biden — Paxton’s speech is titled “Joe Did This” — and ripping on Vice President Kamala Harris.

Where are all the common sense members of the Republican Party? Mysteriously missing from this list and a weekend visit to the great state of Texas.

Which brings us back to our own leaders. In addition to those mentioned, three local members of Congress — Rep. Michael Burgess of Pilot Point, Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Rep. Roger Williams of Austin. Neither they nor the statewide officials appearing are synonymous with the views or character traits of someone like Boebert or Greene. But they diminish themselves and the appeal of Texas conservatism by mixing it with conspiratorial nonsense.

And of course, there’s Trump. His obsession with false theories about the 2020 election disqualified him from serious consideration long ago. But the latest revelations of the congressional Jan. 6 committee indicate the extent to which, at minimum, he considered actions that could have amounted to an attempt to overthrow the legitimate processes of government.

He is no longer fit to be president. What’s more, the GOP does not need to embrace him: There are plenty of other sound, sane, viable Republicans who could run and represent the party well.

Abbott and Co. already have the votes of the grassroots Texas base. They don’t need to be at CPAC. They could skip it, make their reasoning known, and barely feel a bump in the polls.

But you’re known by the company you keep. Our GOP politicians continue to attend events where Trump is the headliner, drawn like moths to a flame of conspiratorial nonsense and child-like drama. It tarnishes their reputations, the Texas GOP — and frankly, the state.

It’s like watching a toxic relationship expire well past its prime: You want one person to walk away and say, enough is enough, I’m better than this. But they never do.

Texas is, in fact, better than what we’ll see at CPAC. It’s one thing to stick to your principles, but it’s another to remain in the clutches of a leader well past his prime and who’s overstayed his welcome.

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Houston Chronicle. August 4, 2022.

Editorial: What Kansas’ vote on abortion means for Texas

What’s the matter with Kansas? This time, nothing at all.

A state once considered to be a national model for the rise of cultural conservatism, and for the growing trend of middle class Americans to vote against their own interests, turned that reputation on its head Tuesday night — at least on the issue of protecting abortion rights.

Kansas primary voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for abortion bans.

It turns out that conservative voters were not nearly as eager to block abortion access as the state’s Republican legislature was. Roughly 60% of Kansas voters supported preserving abortion rights. In blunter terms, the pro-abortion rights side won a larger percentage of votes than Donald Trump, who carried Kansas by roughly 15 percentage points in 2020.

The referendum results are a resounding victory for abortion rights advocates in Kansas and a profound rejection of restrictions that came into effect after the Supreme Court’s decision in June to dismantle the constitutional protections afforded by Roe v. Wade. It was also a victory for women in every neighboring state where abortion is illegal — Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa — who now have a relatively nearby safe haven to pursue the option.

Lastly, it was a win for the majority of Americans who still believe that some degree of bodily autonomy is a human right.

The Kansas results are proof that the radical laws passed by anti-abortion politicians across the nation are woefully out of touch with what mainstream voters want, which is at least some rights for pregnant women to make choices that affect their bodies, their families, including other children, and their destinies. Texas voters are no different. A University of Texas poll in July found only 15% of Texans support a complete ban on abortion access. There is even some evidence that Latino voters in our state, often assumed to be an anti-abortion monolith, believe the procedure should be legal in most cases.

The fact that nearly 50% of Kansas voters showed up to vote in this summer election — 60% higher than the 2018 primary — should be a loud wake-up call to Texas Republicans on the ballot this fall. We’ve all heard the well-worn axiom that Texas isn’t so much a Republican state as it is a non-voting state. Now Democrats might finally have a chance to build a sturdy enough coalition of voters to prove that one critical issue, or perhaps two if you count gun safety, can transcend partisanship.

After all, Texas — the state that birthed the Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion — has since become ground zero for the national assault on abortion rights. The state in 2021 passed an unprecedented abortion ban after six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant. The law is so gratuitously oppressive it includes a bizarre bounty hunter provision allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.

Kansas still has a 22-week abortion ban, but it has also become a crucial hub for abortion procedures in the Midwest, especially after states such as Texas and Oklahoma have now essentially banned the procedure. But after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the state’s five abortion clinics could barely keep up with the demand. In Texas alone, providers were performing close to 55,000 procedures per year, even before the ban passed in September.

Having one regional island of abortion access is an untenable reality for most Texans. Whether pro-choice Texas candidates who support abortion rights can effectively appeal to voters on this issue is still an open question. Kansas is a mostly white state with a large evangelical constituency; Texas is a fast-growing, large state with a globally competitive economy and one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the nation.

Texas also won’t have an abortion rights ballot referendum to drive turnout. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke said he would work to repeal the abortion ban if elected, a promise that will be hard to keep unless his coattails are long enough to carry other down-ballot, pro-choice candidates to victory. But O’Rourke does have a useful foil in Gov. Greg Abbott, a politician widely scorned for Texas’ severe rollback of abortion access under his watch. That Abbott’s position on abortion rights has shifted — before signing Texas’ abortion ban, Abbott said in 2014 he supported abortions for up to 20 weeks of pregnancy — presumably to satisfy the extremist wing of his party, could make him uniquely vulnerable.

It will be up to O’Rourke and other candidates who favor abortion rights to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters on this issue with a unifying message.

Something like: Freedom is a good thing. For speech rights. For gun rights. And for a woman’s right to control her own body. They all need limits. And they all need protection.

It worked for Kansas. Texans who agree have a chance to say so in the fall and prove that Tuesday’s results in Kansas were a harbinger, not an outlier.

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San Antonio Express-News. August 3, 2022.

Editorial: Texas Lege needs to use surplus funds on schools

Texas is rolling in the dough, with an extra $27 billion in state funds expected when the Legislature convenes in January.

That’s a good thing, especially if lawmakers prioritize the monumental needs of our schools. In the aftermath of the pandemic and the murders of 19 elementary students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, adequate public school funding has taken on a heightened level of urgency.

Schools need to hire and retain teachers, better ensure safety and shore up mental health resources. These are each costly efforts for cash-strapped schools, but the state’s coffers are brimming.

While Gov. Greg Abbott and others have promised property tax cuts — something we support — funding these education needs must come first.

In a recent guest commentary, Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District and president of the Texas School Alliance, wrote about the dichotomy of a state flush with cash while public schools go wanting.

One of those needs is better school security. As San Antonio Police Chief William McManus pointed out in a July Express-News guest column, school shooters don’t break into campuses. As with the one in Uvalde, he wrote, shooters often “simply walked in.”

Since Uvalde, many a politician has used the phrase “hardening schools.” The wording makes us bristle because we should aspire to live in a world in which schools are not targets for massacres — and commonsense gun safety reforms are embraced. But this aspiration is not reality, and securing schools is expensive. Security includes adding access control, law enforcement officers and metal detectors, and upgrading technology such as surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi.

Consider that a 2019 school safety bill allocated only $10 per student for school safety, according to the Texas Tribune.

After the Uvalde school massacre, Abbott allocated $100 million of Texas Education Agency surplus funds for school safety. About half went to bullet-resistant shields for school police officers and $17.1 million for school districts to buy silent panic alert technology. It’s not enough.

Mental health support for students is another huge, expensive need, one that has surged with the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported children’s mental health-related emergency visits increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for children 12 to 17 in 2020 compared with 2019. Consider that the American Psychiatric Association has reported half of mental illness begins by age 14.

Texans Care for Children, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan children’s policy organization, has called for increased funding for children’s mental health needs, including dedicated school mental health funding to stabilize children in crisis and serve them before a crisis occurs.

We also know from the Texas House investigative committee report in response to the Robb Elementary shooting that many mental health red flags were missed.

Texas ranks 45th in the nation in terms of per-pupil funding, according to an April Texas AFT and Every Texan report that highlights staffing shortages. Texas AFT also reports that the Texas counselor-to-student ratio is 394-to-1 — way above the recommended ratio of 250-to-1.

Additional funding is crucial to hire, train and retain teachers. Without teachers, school doesn’t happen.

In a 2021 Charles Butt Foundation poll of 919 Texas teachers, 68 percent said they seriously considered leaving the profession, an increase of 10 percentage points compared with the year before. They said they felt undervalued and underpaid. And as a new school year is set to begin, we are seeing districts scrambling to hire educators.

A sea change is needed.

We agree with Calallen ISD, a district about 15 mile northwest of Corpus Christi, whose board wrote a letter in June to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath that called for re-evaluating the state’s education priorities. This would mean shifting the focus from standardized testing and curriculum alignment to student health, community decision-making and bolstering teacher compensation.

Texas has the funds to support schools and children. Less clear is if it has the political backbone.

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