State creates mental health task force for Harvey-affected schools

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AUSTIN — Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Oct. 11 announced the establishment of the Hurricane Harvey Task Force on School Mental Health Supports to deliver needed attention to schools and higher education institutions impacted by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency, acting on orders from Gov. Greg Abbott, is spearheading the effort in partnership with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in collaboration with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The task force will develop a list of tiered supports and resources that can be used by school leaders to address the mental health needs of affected staff, students and families. 

“As I’ve traveled the state following Hurricane Harvey, it is evident that addressing the mental health needs of our students and educators is of the utmost importance,” Morath said. “This coordinated mental health response will allow our state agencies to coordinate local responses that reflect the specific needs of each individual community,” he added.

“The invisible wounds left behind after this storm are often the most difficult to recover from,” Abbott said. 

Abbott, Sharp visit cities

Gov. Abbott on Oct. 11 visited the cities of Port Arthur, Mont Belvieu, Dayton, Kountze and Orange in southeast Texas during a three-day, 16-city tour of hurricane-impacted areas of the state. 

Joining Abbott was John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, who serves as chair of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Abbott has delegated executive authority to Sharp to marshal state agency resources to rebuild hurricane-damaged infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and other public facilities.

Abbott and Sharp visited with mayors, legislators, county judges and other officials “to ensure they are getting all the help they need in the recovery effort,” Abbott said.

Other cities hosting gubernatorial visits included Sugar Land, Wharton, Bay City, Angleton, and Dickinson on Oct. 10 and Aransas Pass, Port Aransas, Rockport, Refugio, Port Lavaca, and Victoria on Oct. 9.

Hegar distributes revenue

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Oct. 11 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $660.4 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of October, 1.6 percent more than in October 2016. 

Allocations are based on sales made in August by businesses that report tax monthly. 

In other news, Hegar on Oct. 10 announced his office’s release of the Certification Revenue Estimate for fiscal biennium 2018-2019. 

The Comptroller’s Office expects revenue available for general spending in 2018-19 to total about $107.33 billion, an amount that would support the $107.23 billion in general-purpose spending called for by the 85th Legislature and result in a final balance available for certification of $94 million. 

Market turbulence, energy price fluctuations, potential changes in national economic policy and the eventual cost of Hurricane Harvey contribute uncertainty to this estimate, Hegar said. Texas is in the early stages of storm recovery, and full impacts to the state’s economy and revenues have only begun to take shape and likely will change in the coming months, Hegar stressed.

Focus: school bus safety

With National School Bus Safety Week being observed Oct. 16-20, the Texas Department of Public Safety urges Texans to comply with laws prohibiting drivers from passing school buses. 

It is illegal to pass any school bus that is stopped and operating a visual signal, either flashing red lights or a stop sign. Drivers who violate the law could face fines as much as $1,250.

“Motorists should always be alert and practice safe driving habits when traveling near school buses or anywhere school children gather, including bus stops,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Texas parents can rest assured that DPS will not tolerate those who recklessly endanger children by ignoring the law.”

More than 42,000 school buses transport approximately 1.5 million Texas children every school day, according to an estimate by the Texas Education Agency.

AG cheers EPA law repeal

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 10 praised a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that Texas, West Virginia and 22 other states opposed.

“The Clean Power Plan,” Paxton said, “would have subjected Americans to higher electricity costs and could have weakened the nation’s power grid.”

Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association. 

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