Saturday was an extraordinary day for advocacy in Texas.
This week, Senate Republicans slipped a controversial amendment onto a must-pass school finance bill, requiring parents to actively opt their children into sex education classes. Only six other states currently have similar requirements. Since the bill did not receive a hearing in the House, this last-minute legislative maneuvering meant that stakeholders didn’t have an opportunity to communicate to House members how harmful these provisions are. What’s more, House members didn’t have a chance to weigh in on a major policy change impacting every Texas public school student and every Texas school district.
Over the weekend, as a direct result of an outpouring of intensive advocacy, a compromise was brokered. The sex education opt-in will be required, but will only be in place for three years. The school finance bill, HB 1525, passed and is headed to the governor’s desk.
The opt-in provision, even for the limited 3-year period, is extremely concerning. We know from districts that have implemented opt in procedures that the vast majority of parents — on the order of 95% — choose to have their children take sex education. And of course, parents continue to have the right to keep their children out of any classes they wish.
The problem is for the kids whose parents or caretakers are not actively opposed to sexual education, but simply miss the form in the bottom of the backpack or in their jam-packed email inboxes. Parents who are already disengaged from the educational process may be especially likely to miss a permission slip or forget to return it. Many children are also living in chaotic situations without engaged caretakers. The opt-in provision is likely to harm the children who most need schools to step up and provide important information about how their bodies work, how to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and how to have healthy relationships and know the warning signs of abuse or exploitation.
While we’re extremely grateful for all of the intensive advocacy that resulted in a compromise, this is still a troubling and harming piece of legislation that was pushed through without appropriate opportunity for public input. A bill that was sold as improving transparency and accountability was, ironically, forced through with a shameful lack of transparency.
As this legislative session comes to a close, we and our partners will continue to fight on behalf of Texas students and families to ensure access to medically accurate information about reproductive health. And we are so grateful for the outpouring of advocacy, which genuinely made a difference.