Published 8:28 pm Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday heard two bills aimed at getting teachers who have inappropriate relationships with their students out of the public education system. Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt presented a bill that would make it harder for a teacher with a history of this behavior from getting a job at another district. “We have to remove any possible obstacle to identify teachers or educators with this problem and pull their license,” he said. Such cases are up 43 percent in this fiscal year, said Bettencourt, with 97 cases through the end of January, compared with 68 over the same period in 2016.

He referred to the problem as “pass the trash” where a teacher who may have been fired for sexual misconduct is able to get a job at another district elsewhere in the state. Sometimes, this happens even with the full knowledge of the teacher’s former employers in the district, said Bettencourt. “We’ve heard stories…where, unfortunately, sometimes, school districts, individual administrators, instead of coming to transparency on this issue, would appear to be going in the reverse,” he said. “That’s really disheartening.”   Bettencourt’s bill, SB 7, would add criminal penalties for any administrator who knew about a teacher’s history of inappropriate behavior but didn’t report it. It would also require principals, instead of just superintendents, to report sexual misconduct to the state.

Other provisions in the bill include requiring districts to formulate policies governing contact between teachers and students on social media and continuing education for teachers about avoiding inappropriate relationships. It would also revoke the certificate of any teacher on deferred adjudication for a sex-related offense or one who is on the sex offender registry.

Also on Wednesday, the Education Committee heard testimony on a bill looking to help students get good paying technical jobs after they finish their education. Called the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH model, this program aims to get students through high school and qualified with an associates’ degree or industry certification within six years of entering high-school. “The P-TECH program was developed to create a direct pathway from high school to college to the workplace,” said Committee Chair and Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor. “P-TECH students receive focused education on skills that will prepare them for high demand jobs.”

His bill, SB 22, would charge the Texas Education Agency with formulating curriculum for the program, but it would have to include a plan for reaching that six-year goal, working with the Texas Workforce Commission and the Higher Education Coordinating Board to identify regional workforce needs, improve credit transfer between institutions and provide for paid internships and apprenticeships for students.   Qualifying schools could apply for a P-TECH designation from the Commissioner of Education, and Taylor said the Senate budget includes $5 million in grant funds to help schools implement the program. Should the bill become law, the program would begin in the 2018 school year.

Both SB 7 and SB 22 remain pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 27 at 2 p.m.