Panel backs fee hike for teacher misconduct backlog

Panel backs fee hike for teacher misconduct backlog

(Calif.) With the state Attorney General still struggling to dig out from under a significant backlog of teacher misconduct cases, a key legislative panel agreed earlier this week to a proposed fee hike to support discipline activities.

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is completely self-funded, processes some 5,500 complaints each year about the actions of teachers and principals. About 80 of those cases go to the Attorney General annually for prosecution.

That workload has substantially increased in recent years following a number of high-profile cases in Los Angeles and other districts that raised concerns that students were being put at risk.

At the same time, CTC’s revenue stream sharply declined, as the number of new teachers entering the profession – who pay credentialing fees – fell by more than 70 percent since 2008.

As a result, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in his revised May budget to give the agency authority to increase its credentialing fee from $70 to $100.

That proposal won support without dissent of the Senate subcommittee on education finance Wednesday.

“The only way to bring the backlog of cases down is to go after them aggressively,” Mary Sandy, executive director of the CTC, told members of the panel.

“The individuals who are those cases are either folks who did wrong things and need to have their credentials acted upon in all due haste to protect public safety,” she said, “or they are individuals who have been wrongly accused and need to be given due process as soon as possible.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst did not disagree that the CTC needs some additional revenue – but they suggested smaller changes.

Jameel Naqvi, representing the LAO, said that the workload issues justified a fee increase of $15 to a total of $85 to obtain a new credential or $85 to renew one.

Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, said he was sensitive to the economic plight of new teachers, who often are already saddled with school loans and other debts – but in the end he voted for the increase as well.

“The safety of our children, I think we can all agree, is tantamount to what we are doing for our schools,” said Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, speaking for the majority. “This is an area I would err on being overly generous if that’s what it takes.”

In a related action, the subcommittee also backed the governor’s plan to change how educator misconduct reports are organized and managed.

One issue is that complaint reports coming from school districts often lack basic information – a problem that results in the commission spending more time and money to complete an initial first step in the investigation.

The requirements for how districts fill out the reports is currently expressed in regulation – not state law. The governor has proposed upgrading the requirements into statute in hopes of impressing upon local officials the need to provide the CTC with all information needed to evaluate the case.

Another issue is the need to authorize CTC to investigate a superintendent’s or charter school administrator’s failure to provide required information in reports of educator misconduct to the commission.

Specifically, the administration wants language that would authorize the CTC to initiate a formal investigation for unprofessional conduct and report the incident to law enforcement.

The governor’s office notes that existing law specifies that a refusal or unwillingness to report educator misconduct is unprofessional conduct for a credential holder and in all instances a misdemeanor subject to a fine of $500 to $1,000. But it points out that the CTC has no authority to pursue superintendents or administrators who refuse to include statutorily-required information in a report of educator misconduct.