Senate Committee on Education unanimously approves Senator Bettencourt’s SB 1886 to beef up TEA with an Office of Inspector General

AUSTIN – The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve Senate Bill 1886 yesterday by Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). SB 1886 gives the Texas Education Agency (TEA) explicit statutory authority to formally designate an Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate and take action regarding instances of fraud, waste, and abuse by school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, regional education service centers, and other entities subject to the TEA Commissioner’s regulatory authority.

“Nearly 28% of the state’s budget goes towards public education, not counting higher education,” Senator Bettencourt said. “An Office of Inspector General at the Texas Education Agency is essential to hold entities responsible for managing such large sums of money. Under Senate Bill 1886, TEA’s OIG will be authorized to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in education.”

During the Senate Education Committee’s initial hearing on SB 1886 last week, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testified about sometimes tragic criminal activities that have occurred recently in school districts around the state. He noted that with SB 1886, TEA would have an OIG with investigatory power for such cases. “Public corruption, pay-to-play schemes, physical threats, violence used to steer money to favored vendors, district procurement officials in one school district murdered execution-style – these are the types of activities where we’d be able to take action and shift schools in a more positive direction,” Commissioner Morath told the committee. Under SB 1886, the TEA OIG has more specific authority to refer criminal investigations to appropriate law enforcement authorities and the district attorney for prosecution. Further, the TEA OIG can look into additional organizational ramifications to stem any internal cultures of corruption at the entity that gave rise to the criminal activities.

SB 1886 would also allow TEA’s OIG to investigate matters such as an ISD board firing its auditor. According to recent news articles, Houston ISD’s chief auditor was suspended for alleged misconduct shortly after he questioned trustee travel and a $1.9 billion over-budget bond issue. TEA had no recourse under current law, but under SB 1886, the TEA’s OIG would be able to open an investigation without first receiving a complaint.

County departments of education, including Dallas County Schools and the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE), also are included in the list of entities that TEA’s OIG can investigate. “Under SB 1886, the TEA OIG has explicit statutory authority to better investigate local education agencies across the state,” Senator Bettencourt said. Earlier on Tuesday, the Texas Senate approved Senator Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 1166, which calls for a full, in-depth Sunset Commission review of HCDE’s mission, functions, efficiencies, and overall effectiveness.

“The Texas Education Agency is one of the few major agencies that does not have explicit authority for an Office of Inspector General to investigate instances of fraud, waste, and abuse,” Senator Bettencourt said. “It is beyond time to implement this kind of accountability in Texas education!”