If it seems like you're hearing more reports of improper relationships between educators and students, it's because you are.
"We have a problem with this in society," said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). "We've had a 43 percent increase in one year. The reports are coming in from media all over the state."
Those reports are also highlighting an alarming problem, referred to as "passing the trash." It's the common practice of educators who resign from a school district after being accused of an improper relationship with a student, only to be hired by another district.
"You can have a problem in one school district with an educator and they can literally go to another school district," Bettencourt added.
The Senate Committee on Education heard two bills aimed at stopping the practice Thursday. Senate Bill 7 was filed by Bettencourt, and the other bill is Senate Bill 653 from state Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano).
"We're looking at increasing the subpoena power of the Texas Education Agency has," Bettencourt explained. "We're looking at basically forcing reports for principals and school districts, superintendents about problem teachers that exist in their organization. And more importantly we're setting up a system that allows licenses to be revoked."
Bettencourt's bill makes not filing those reports a crime.
"This is a big problem," Taylor said during the meeting. "It is a broken system and this is why it requires a very substantial piece of legislation."
Taylor's bill is the largest he's ever filed totaling 45 pages. It attacks the issue from all angles by doing the following:
- Create a new policy articulating the Legislature's expectations
- Requires implementation of electronic communications policy
- Updates teacher training and requires continuing education
- Creates state-wide "Do-Not-Hire" registry
- Requires principals report misconduct to the SBEC
- Requires Districts of Innovation and Charter Schools report misconduct
- Authorizes SBEC to subpoena witnesses and access teacher records
- Authorizes SBEC to temporarily suspend bad actors
- Terminates registered sex offenders who are teachers
- Allows school boards to immediately terminate felons
- Prohibits making positive job references for teachers who engage in misconduct
- Revokes pension for teachers convicted of criminal acts
"To solve this problem, you've got to start from beginning to end, right. You can't just solve one piece and say 'We're done,'" said Taylor.
"You can get the reporting piece exactly right and get all the reports in, but if you're not doing the investigations piece then you're not going to fix the problem," Taylor added. "And then you can do great reporting and great investigating, but if you don't have a registry to actually screen out the sex offenders from going after children, you're not going to do that."
The comprehensive bills have supporters on both sides of the aisle. The committee is expected to vote to send the bills to the full Senate for a vote next week.