Unlicensed educators fly under radar, state seeks more scrutiny

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Texas charter school system

Charter school personnel are flying under the radar of investigations of educator malfeasance, a state education investigator said, potentially allowing them to move from school to school without detection.

In the wake of recent state legislation that strengthened the requirements on administrators to report questionable contact between educators and students, “I would expect this to be addressed in the next session,” said Doug Phillips, director of investigations for the Texas Education Agency.

Under Senate Bill 7, passed last year, administrators are required to notify the state if there is any evidence of contact, whereas the law previously allowed for something more concrete. Charter school employees are included in the language, but only those who are certified through the state can be tracked.

“I am guessing there will be more language to deal with non-certified educators from charter schools and other places that are exempt from certified educators,” Phillips said. “We’re going to see fewer people who are certified working in schools, like an agriculture teacher who has been a farmer all his life. If he has a misconduct at a school, they fire him, but who do they report him to? We have no jurisdiction, and they can’t be traced.”

Both charters and so-called “districts of innovation,” which give public school districts more flexibility in curriculum as well as hiring instructors, are able to bring on personnel without certification to teach.

“So someone can move from school to school if there are no reporting requirements,” Phillips said.

The language in SB 7 addresses all schools, including the state’s 186 charters. Upper level administrators can be legally held responsible for a failure to report evidence of misbehavior. But unless the infraction is a crime, those committing the infraction, without a license, can escape without much evidence of wrongdoing.

The Texas Association of Charter Schools, which claims to represent 90 percent of the state’s 275,000 charter students, did not respond to an interview request.

Tracking educators who practice outside the state license system poses a hurdle that, for now, relies on the faith that a school that does not need its educators to be licensed will duly report infractions.

If a deed meets the legal standard for prosecution, that creates a public record, said Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Schools, a charter operation based in Austin.

She noted that a common denominator between licensed educators and life experience instructors is participation in the state’s teacher retirement system, or TRS.

A serious ethical breach or illicit conduct could result in withholding of funds from that system, she said, although the bar is high as to what would trigger such a withholding. Even a federal conviction for six-figure theft does not ensure a TRS recipient will lose their pension.

SB 7 was passed after failed bills in previous sessions, as reports of illicit educator-student contacts have grown in the past decade — fueled by easier detection via social media.

There were 2.62 investigations per 10,000 licensed educators in 2008-2009, compared to 5.94 per 10,000 in 2016-2017, according to data gathered by David Thompson, education leadership professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Sanctions for inappropriate relations, from the taking of a license to a blemish on the educator’s license, grew in that period from 58 in 2008-2009 to 272 in 2016-2017.

Because of SB 7, which lowers the requirement for reporting of such contact, “educators are probably more vulnerable than they have been in the past,” Thompson said. “SB 7 has put educators in the spotlight and this will result in more reporting.”

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

83 COMMENTS

  1. When your local public school system redistrics the boarders so the ONE school in the district that doesnt have enough kids with free or reduced lunches….. Just so the district can become a trier 3…meaning poor… Just to receive more state funds…
    Makes one wonder what the goal is. Kids or money. No one will move to your town with a low rating. But why should the school board care…they got the state money.

  2. Come on. I can teach better than most of our elementary school teachers, and I didn’t finish my degree yet. Why shouldn’t someone who has the demonstrated capacity and natural or developed gift be invited to teach and allowed to for the betterment of the students and the schools no matter not having jumped through all the prescribed hoops?

    • A bit arrogant there. The test is how well are they learning. How much do you know about learning and how to deal with the different learning styles and disabilities?

    • Knowing your abilities is sometimes mistaken for arrogance. I know. However, when someone under sells himself, he does himself no favors. I have been put to the test. I have a strong sense of all the learning styles and how to teach them. I’m resourceful and highly analytical when I teach.

  3. Wrong, my grand daughter gets an excellent education at a charter school. It’s 100% better than the San Antonio public schools. Better student to child ratio, zero tolerance for bullying, excellent safety in the school and on the grounds. Wonderful after school and summer camp program. Plus uniforms so there are no clothing jealousies.

  4. Charter schools should receive no public funding and have no oversight by the state. You’re out of the system and should be on your own if you don’t use public schools. Buyer beware. Just my opinion.

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