This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on January 8, 2019.
Ann Beeson is a social justice attorney who is recognized as one of the nation’s top lawyers.
As a native Texan, Ann Beeson develops innovative strategies that will advance social change in Texas. As the CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, she advocates for Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential, has launched groundbreaking programs to stop the erosion of civil liberties, and co-produced a public media series, inspiring people to become engaged in their communities.
Since joining CPPP in 2013, Beeson has assisted the organization in deepening its commitment to racial and ethnic equity, expanded its research and advocacy scope and strengthened its Texas legislative advocacy.
What do you believe is the number one public policy issue facing Texas today and how do you think it can be overcome?
Without a doubt, inadequate support for public education. The 5.4 million children in Texas public schools represent the future of Texas. They deserve the best education anywhere, with small class sizes, high-quality teachers, science, arts, and more. Money matters in education, and yet our state’s outdated school finance system hasn’t been remodeled in over 30 years! That’s not good enough for Texas. Our lawmakers at the Capitol have a responsibility to improve the way we fund our schools so that the next generation of Texans is ready for the future.
In what ways has CPPP’s advocacy resulted in racial and ethnic equality?
At CPPP, we work to raise the bar for all Texans while also closing the gaps between different racial and ethnic groups caused by discriminatory policies. For example, our work to expand health care enrollment and reduce barriers to coverage has helped lower the overall percentage of Texans without health insurance for several years. The percentages of African Americans and Hispanics without health insurance have also dropped, but gaps by race and ethnicity remain. CPPP advocates for targeted policy solutions – like recommending boosted health insurance enrollment outreach and resources in Spanish – to promote equity so that Texans of all backgrounds can thrive.
What about the gap in public education?
Texas is at the leading edge of profound demographic change in the country. 72% of our kids in Texas public schools are children of color, and more students are low-income or English Language Learners. Because our state relies too much on local property taxes to pay for public schools, wealthier neighborhoods end up with more funding and better schools. Our school finance formulas are supposed to help balance out school districts, but these formulas haven’t been updated to address the needs of today’s students. CPPP makes a case for better funding of bilingual education because it helps more Texas kids succeed.
How have CPPP’s efforts to educate local and state policymakers resulted in legislative change?
CPPP education and advocacy has stopped severe budget cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Early versions of the 2018-19 Texas state budget would have drastically underfunded Medicaid. Among other things, Medicaid pays the costs of 50% of all births in Texas. CPPP’s advocacy, along with many partners, helped reduce the amount of underfunding by two-thirds and prompted an extensive debate at the Legislature about its responsibility to better fund Medicaid in the next budget.
We have also taken the lead in protecting Texans from surprise medical bills in hospital emergency rooms and CPPP’s data and analysis helped defeat detrimental school voucher bills at the state Capitol—-which would have siphoned off public money to pay for private school tuition.
What has been the most significant achievement of CPPP?
We’re proud that CPPP worked to establish the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas and then to extend the same kind of easy enrollment and renewal of Medicaid for children. Fewer than one million children were covered in 1999, and now 3.5 million are covered between Medicaid and CHIP.
More recently, our work has helped to expand the number Texans with health insurance and prevent large drops in coverage. And in 2018, the Austin City Council passed a citywide paid sick days policy for private employers. CPPP played a significant role in drafting the ordinance, disseminating research on how many workers lacked paid sick leave and educate stakeholders about the public health benefits of the policy. Though the policy is still tied up in the courts, the over 211,000 workers impacted will remain a powerful constituency to demand policies that make sense for working families.