‘We changed the conversation’ — lawmaker reflects on first session

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Like many lawmakers, State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, listed education as one of his top priorities heading into the legislative session. The freshman lawmaker pushed a package of bills to keep Texas students “safe, healthy and ready” this session at the Capitol.

A former teacher, Talarico wanted to “change the whole education conversation” by filing a series of 24 bills back in March along with other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — called the “Whole Student Agenda

The bills sought to expand mental health resources in schools and were designed to “serve students in a more holistic fashion,” Talarico said, by introducing financial literacy, sex education and civics curriculum to schools.

The agenda also called for expanding the services available to students raising children of their own in higher education institutions, among other mental health provisions and raising educational standards.

A lot of people were surprised that a freshman would introduce such big policy goals,” Talarico said.  Most of the bills did not pass. But Talarico does not see that as failure.

“Our whole student agenda changed the education conversation at the Capitol and really asked the fundamental questions about how our schools should be designed to serve our students in a more holistic fashion.”

Talarico’s passion for education earned him attention even before the session started. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who appointed him to the House Public Education Committee. 

“He wanted practitioners and education policy experts at the table when we’re discussing these issues and because of my history in the classroom as a teacher and an education non-profit leader he really valued my insight,” Talarico said.  “Which I appreciate even though I’m a freshman and I belong to a different party.”

Talarico helped pass House Bill 3, which invests $6.5 billion to improve public education, expands full day pre-K for the first time in Texas history and increases most teacher pay. The bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month, also provides $5.1 billion in property tax relief for homeowners and businesses.

Talarico, however, said he’s “concerned” the investments in the bill may not be sustainable going forward.

“We’re worried that good economic times don’t last forever,” Talarico said.  “Next session…we’re going to look at how to make sure we’re sustaining this investment over the long-term for our students.”

But with the session behind them all lawmakers will transition into campaign mode, and for Talarico, his directive hasn’t changed.

“It’s the same message we ran on—putting people over politics.”  Talarico said. “It’s not always the most exciting and the most partisan of approaches but I think it’s the best way to create good public policy that’s going to serve the people of Texas.”
 

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