Texas State Sen. Van Taylor recently added an amendment to a state bill on inappropriate teacher-student relationships, revoking pensions for teachers who are found guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child, an improper relationship between educator and student, or sexual assault.
When news broke that a practice known as “passing the trash” exists within school districts in Texas, where districts quietly send teachers accused of sexual relationships with students to new, unsuspecting schools rather than pursue an investigation, we were all rightfully horrified.
During the interim, the Senate Education Committee received testimony on the problem of improper student-teacher relationships. Looking at the data provided by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), it is disturbing to learn that this problem has grown worse over the past few years. In 2010, SBEC reported 141 cases of inappropriate student-teacher relationships. Last year, 222 cases were investigated by the agency.
More alarming, some school districts apparently have colluded to cover up these practices and even move these predatory teachers to other schools — turning otherwise happy and carefree children into new victims.
Crimes against children comprise an incomparable sort of evil. Texas children should not carry with them lifelong scars because — rather than do their job and address the abuse — school districts choose to pass these teachers to other unknowing districts, washing their hands of the issue and making it someone else’s problem, and another child’s nightmare.
In researching this problem within the Texas education community, I stumbled across another dirty secret. In the cases where these deviant teachers were caught, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison, shockingly, they still receive the reward of a taxpayer-funded pension.
I will be the first to publicly recognize that the vast majority of Texas teachers do a great job. In my district in Collin and Dallas County, and all districts across the state, we have incredible teachers who devote their time and talents to teaching our state’s youth. Texas’s current success and bright future derives in large part from our quality teachers.
In recognition of devoting a large portion of their lives to our public schools, Texas rewards our retired teachers with a public pension. This important and substantial gesture from Texas families to our teachers demonstrates appreciation for their service.
However, under no circumstance should a teacher who preyed on children receive a reward for that crime. Unbelievably, while the families directly affected by the abuse face years, or a lifetime, of counseling and other related costs, the perpetrators of those heinous crimes collect a pension that families of victims fund through their tax dollars. That is immoral.
Unfortunately, this perverse reality is not an isolated problem. In reviewing the list of teaching certificates automatically revoked by SBEC over the past 15 years and cross-checking that list with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Offender Database, my office identified at least 77 former teachers who taught the requisite five years needed to become vested for a teacher retirement pension. These crimes include the worst of the worst: improper relationship between educator and student, sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child, possession and promotion of child pornography, online solicitation of a child, indecency with a child, and more, many with multiple counts.
It is simply indefensible that Texas families reward these individuals with a taxpayer-funded pension. Sadly, this problem is larger than the 77 educators I have identified. My research did not identify those teachers who voluntarily surrendered their certificate or those who were never licensed. Further, the TDCJ database is a just a snapshot in time, reflecting only those offenders in jail at the time of the search.
Every stone I turned added more names to the list.
First and foremost, through priority legislation, Texas must be clear and emphatic: no predatory teachers will have their actions swept under the rug and concealed by a school or district more concerned with its own appearance than the safety of Texas children. Texas must get this right and do it now.
In line with this charge, we must separate the vile sexual predators from the deserving teachers and not invest a single tax dollar rewarding those teachers who are convicted of such a gross violation of the people’s trust and the innocence of a child.