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Educator misconduct reform bill includes pension suspension provision

Educators convicted of having improper relationships with students could have their pensions revoked, according to legislation recently approved by the Texas House and Senate. 

The measure is part of Senate Bill 7 authored by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, intended to strengthen educator misconduct laws. The Senate passed the bill March 8 and the House approved an amended version of the bill May 9. The House action sent the bill back to the Senate, which concurred with the changes May 15. The legislation now heads to the governor's desk to be signed into law. 

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, proposed the amendment seeking to suspend pension benefits of teachers convicted of sexual misconduct with a student.

"Crimes against children are an unbearable evil," Rinaldi said. 

An amendment to Rinaldi's amendment leaves it up to a judges' discretion if the convicted educator's pension could be released to a spouse. 

In addition to pension revocation, Bettencourt's office highlight additional bill measures including:
  • Automatic revocation of teaching certificate if offender receives deferred adjudication for an educator misconduct offense or any offense that would require them to register as a sex offender.
  • Expansion of reporting requirements to include not only superintendents but principals as well, with penalties for failing to report.
  • Expansion of the TEA's investigative authority from intra-district to inter-district relationships.
  • Revocation of an educator certificate if they assist a person in obtaining employment at a school and they knew the individual had engaged in sexual misconduct.
In addition to the pension revocation amendments, House amendments clarified the teacher preparation training, the particular reporting role of principals and superintendents, and allowed felons to be fired by a school district. 

"The House and Senate both unanimously passed Senate Bill 7, making clear that this behavior of teachers preying on students for sexual relationships will not be tolerated," Bettencourt stated in a news release. "SB 7 gives [Texas Education Agency] more tools to pursue and investigate these cased in order to protect the integrity of the teaching profession and, more importantly, protect the students in all of the schools in Texas."

Between 2015 and 2017, the TEA received a 65 percent increase in reported incidents of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, according to Bettencourt's office. The agency received 449 complaints. 

In some instances, according to testimony regarding the bill made to the Senate Education Committee, school districts allowed teachers to transfer to another school district without consequences. Bettencourt said the bill should squash educators who engage in inappropriate relationships with students from being able to move from school district to school district without facing any consequences.

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