As a pediatrician and medical director of a school-based clinic, I am worried about the upcoming Texas legislative session. I am concerned about the rhetoric coming from Austin pitting schools against hospitals, physicians and the health of Texas families. Already, our elected officials are saying that they will continue to impose an “austerity budget” on the people of Texas. Some of these leaders have suggested that funding for public education might decline if Medicaid funding is not cut.
It is difficult for me to understand why Texans must choose between Medicaid and public schools, or more importantly, it is difficult for me to believe that public officials will stand between health care and public education and pretend that cutting one or the other is the only choice they can make.
There can be no “choosing” between educating children or offering them health care. Education and health care are both basic human rights. Our future economic success as a state depends on our young people. They are our hope. We cannot give up on them, or turn our backs on their health or their futures.
I grew up in Mesquite, Texas. At the time it was a small town of mostly blue-collar workers. But those workers knew that the answer for their children, the key to their greater success, would be in education. So, they proudly passed school bond elections. They wanted the finest schools for their children. Their children are grateful today for their parents’ sacrifices.
Medicaid is a lifeline for so many children, as well as their grandparents in nursing homes and Texans with lifelong disabilities.
There is no need today to slash public education or to deny health care access. Texas is one of the wealthiest states in the world.
The problem is not Medicaid, public education or any other essential public service; the problem is the priorities of state leadership. The legislators and the governor have allowed the tax base to erode. They created the recurring $10 billion hole in Texas’s school-finance system in 2006.
Even with that loss, the state has been blessed with a healthy “rainy day fund” (the Economic Stabilization Fund) whose money comes solely from our oil and gas industry and that benefits vital services during tough economic times. The fund replenishes on its own and is an important part of making sure our schools and kids have what they need. All the same, the legislature has done little with the fund since the recession began.
I believe that an “austerity” budget means that the least politically powerful people in our state — the children and the poor — will be the ones carrying the burden of sacrifice for the failings of our legislators. That decision is not only unjust, it is shameful.
I believe that every physician in this state wants the finest education for all of our children. Do not pit us against the educators. Excuse me, we will stand together.
Marsha R. Griffin, M.D.
Chief of pediatrics
Brownsville Community Health Center
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