Science is real. Here's hoping State Rep. Sarah Davis keeps fighting the anti-vaxxers and protects Texans from epidemics

It may be hard to believe but there are still Texans who are ardent opponents of immunization, despite the wealth of hard evidence they are effective in preventing epidemics and saving lives.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) is learning firsthand that science alone isn’t enough to convince everyone vaccines are safe and should be embraced by everyone.

Davis has been caught in the cross hairs of Texans for Vaccine Choice, a group that advocates for children and adults to remain unvaccinated. “This is an all out attack on your medical freedom of choice by a bought-and-paid-for-wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-mad-hatter-wild-card politician,” the group wrote of Davis.

Those are harsh, unwarranted words for a politician who pushes for Texans to take care of their health and avoid potentially fatal cancers and viruses.
“Deniers make their arguments under the guise of parental rights and personal liberties,” Davis wrote in a January 2017 op-ed for the Houston Chronicle. “In claiming a right to not (vaccinate) their children, they rob other parents of the right to protect the health and safety of their children by exposing them to harmful diseases. For responsible citizens, there is a recognition that personal liberty ends where harm to another begins.”  
Opponents of vaccination are urging parents to ignore evidence proving the effectiveness of vaccines. Once epidemic threats like smallpox, polio, rubella, chickenpox and other diseases are no longer a threat, thanks to vaccinations.

According to the Public Library of Science Medicine, four counties in Texas rank among the top 15 counties in the nation for having the most kindergartners opt out of vaccinations. Harris County, where Houston resides, had a reported 592 kindergartners who weren’t vaccinated from 2015 to 2016. Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, had 518 kindergartners who were not vaccinated during the same time period. Collin County where Plano is had 478 unvaccinated kindergartners. Travis County, which includes Austin, had 413 unvaccinated kindergartners.

Data provided by the Public Library of Science Medicine.

*Note: Data for Texas and Pennsylvania is from 2015-16 school year

Opting out of vaccinations has dangerous consequences, has some Texans found out earlier this year. A small measles outbreak occurred in Ellis County in January, infected six people. As the New York Daily News points out, the measles outbreak may have been caused by the influence of anti-vaccination groups like Texans for Vaccine Choice.

Opponents of vaccines regularly point to a purported link between vaccines and autism, based on a single, deeply flawed paper. As the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia points out, the 1998 and 2002 Wakefield papers attempting to push this falsehood are extremely flawed. The National Academies of Sciences and Engineer Medicine also found there was no evidence of vaccines causing autism.

The uproar over the study was enough for the Lancet to issue a retraction 12 years after it was published.

“Cancers that are preventable should be prevented,” Davis wrote in her op-ed. “Viruses that are preventable should be eradicated. And the safety and efficacy of vaccines are no longer subject to serious debate. They work, and Texas must make sure more of our citizens are immunized against preventable diseases.”

Any common-sense Texan agrees with Davis. Here’s hoping she continues to fight the good fight for health and that other incumbents and candidates join in advocating for vaccinations, which protect the most vulnerable, children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

As property taxes increase, state funding for schools continues to stifle

If you’re a homeowner in Texas, there’s a good chance you cringe every January when it comes time to pay property taxes.
It’s not hard to see why: Texas ranks near the top of states that pays the most for property taxes. A study conducted by financial website WalletHub ranks Texas sixth out of 51 for states that pay the most for property taxes (Washington D.C. is included in the study).
One theory for the high property taxes is the belief that the state government is contributing less every year for statewide education. It’s a view Northside ISD teacher Elizabeth K. in Bexar County shares after working decades in public education.
“I feel over the 20 years I’ve been doing this, less and less funding is going to public education,” Elizabeth told Reform Austin. “There is not support in politics for public education right now. Support of public education needs to be reformed in our state.”

According to the state constitution, the Texas Legislature has a duty to “establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free school.”
Property taxes – also known as ad valorem taxes – are a percentage of taxes local governments collect on every $100 of a property’s assessed value. Property taxes are set by local entities in Texas (the state has no property tax according to the state comptroller’s office). Property and school taxes in Texas are used to fund local government and help fund public schools.
The Texas Legislature paid for approximately 48.5 percent of the state’s public education in 2008, according to the Texas Tribune. By the 2019 fiscal year, the state’s contribution will account for only 38 percent of public education funding, a decrease of nearly 10 percent within 11 years, with the balance being picked up by local taxpayers.

Data provided by the Texas Legislative Budget Board.

Data from the Texas Legislative Budget Board shows local entities paid $20.23 billion toward school funding in 2007, compared to the state’s $13.3 billion. By 2017, local entities paid $26.24 billion to the Texas public education versus the state’s $19.33 billion.
While funding from the state continues to contribute less and less to Texas’ public education system, student population has steadily increased. In the 2006-2007 school year, 4,594,942 students were enrolled in Texas public schools, according to the Texas Education Agency. By the 2016-17 school year, enrollment rose to 5,359,127 students, an increase of 764,185 students in a decade.
The dramatic increase in student enrollment has put a strain on school services and educators’ ability to provide a quality education. For some Texans, the outpacing of student enrollment to education funding is cause for alarm.
“We need to spend our money carefully and we need to make sure we get the most bang for our buck. I’m for education, I think education is the key to success for everyone,” Lynn, a database manager, told Reform Austin. “I’m not interested in seeing educational funding cut at all. Giving money away doesn’t solve the problem.”

Lynn, a database manager, tells Reform Austin that “education is the key to success for everyone.”

The state’s contribution to public school funding has failed to keep up with local contributions as they have over the past decade, while property taxes continue to rise.

Data: Women used less programs after Texas Legislature slashed health care funding

Women’s Health is More than “Choice.”
It’s been approximately seven years since the Texas Legislature began moving to defund health programs for women and as a consequence, women across the state had less access to health services this past decade.
Women’s health, overall in my opinion, is totally overlooked,” Lisa W. of Houston told Reform Austin. “People are dying faster, they’re dying younger and everybody’s just overlooking it.“
Texas legislators moved to exclude Planned Parenthood and clinics tied to abortion providers from taxpayer funding back in 2011. The move by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 decreased family planning spending in Texas from $111 million to $37.9 million for the 2012-13 budget period, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
By targeting Planned Parenthood and other clinics, which provide an enormous array of health services (to women and men), Austin elected officials effectively eliminated access to a broader range of services than perhaps originally intended.

A University of Texas study reports 82 clinics in Texas closed or discontinued family planning following the decrease in funding.
“The 2011 funding cuts really had a dramatic impact on services for many organizations – including those who were not the targets of the legislation,” Dr. Kari White, lead author of the study. “They were simply unable to serve many women in need in their communities, and it will probably take some time before they are able to rebuild those connections and level of services.”
According to a May 2017 report from Texas Health and Human Services, 212,477 clients were served by family planning in fiscal year 2010 under the Texas Women’s Health program. (Note: The program was changed to Healthy Texas Women in July 2016). By fiscal year 2016, family planning served 60,571 clients, a drop of 151,906 clients. Texas also saw a drop in average monthly enrollment in Texas Women’s Health from 2010 to 2016. HHS reports an average of 107,567 people enrolled in the state women’s health programs in fiscal year 2010. By fiscal year 2016, the average monthly enrollment for the program dropped to 94,851.
Overall, HHS reports servicing 352,671 people for state women’s health programs in fiscal year 2010. By fiscal year 2016, HHS serviced 301,310 people, a drop of 51,361 people. The decline indicates HHS lost about 8,560 clients a year between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, even as Texas’ population dramatically increased.

*Data provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Department.

(Note: Texas Women’s Health was rebranded as Healthy Texas Women in July 2016. Fiscal year 2016 data includes numbers from both programs).
“When it comes to health and wellness, you’re missing it,” Lisa said of Texas politicians’ views of women’s health. “We need to focus on this health and wellness issue, we need to get these people on board, we need to stop obesity, we need to slow down the pace of HIV and AIDS in some kind of way, we need to slow down the pace of diabetes, we need to slow down the pace of heart disease.”
There is some indication more women are signing up for the state-run Healthy Texas Women program. According to a May report from HHS, the program served 122,406 women in fiscal year 2017, up from the 70,336 clients served in the 2016 fiscal year. Family planning served 96,990 clients during the 2017 fiscal year, up from the 60,571 clients served in fiscal year 2016.
Tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases were among the most popular services used, according to HHS.
Policy makers committed to women’s health cannot assume 2017 is a turn for the better; for as  HHS notes, “due to changes in program eligibility and benefits, (Healthy Texas Women) and (Family Planning Program) cannot be compared to legacy programs” meaning the 2011 and 2012 data cannot be directly compared to 2017 numbers, since eligibility and benefits have changed.  
Advocates and elected officials should continue to prioritize maternal health, and restore funding for these critically-needed service providers.