PHOENIX — The Arizona State Board of Education is asking for more money to handle an increase in reported misconduct. Right now, the department only has two attorneys working on hundreds of cases a year.
As a result, a teacher accused of misconduct or unprofessional behavior may not get their case heard for eight to 12 months. Meanwhile, their licenses and certificates could remain valid.
For example, Stephen Escudero was arrested by Phoenix police in 2020 for three counts of sexual abuse and two counts of aggravated luring a minor for sexual exploitation.
According to the state, the alleged victim was a student at Carl Hayden High School where Escudero was teaching.
On December 30, 2020, a grand jury indicted Escudero with one count of Sexual Conduct with a Minor (Class 2 Felony) and four counts of Aggravated Luring of a Minor (Class 2 Felony.)
Despite these developments, Escudero still has a valid teaching license, according to the state's website. Board members will discuss suspending his certificates later this month during their regular board meeting.
According to the board, additional money and more attorneys would help process these types of cases quicker.
"Additional funding for three (attorneys) would allow for cases to be processed quicker, resulting in hitting the agency target of 180 days from investigation to adjudication," said Alicia Williams, the board's executive director.
The proposed budget, if approved, would give the department an extra $393,000 a year to hire three more attorneys to help with cases.
According to the state, last fiscal year, the board's investigative unit processed 5,009 instances of review.
As of September 1, 2021, 327 cases are still being investigated.
Additionally, there are 80 cases that are currently assigned or waiting to be assigned to those two attorneys. Of those 80, most of them deal with some form of assault or sexual misconduct.
The proposed budget was approved by the board in August and submitted to the governor's office.
Officials with Stand for Children, a nonprofit, told ABC15 they support funding the new positions.
"Yeah. I think it's pretty straightforward," said Carlos Alfaro, the group's communications director.
"We want kids to be safe inside the classroom," he said.
"You know, every student deserves a fair and inclusive system that gives them the opportunity to succeed, especially those early years in life, so that's why any effort to make kids safer is important," Alfaro said.
A new law will also go into effect at the end of the month that gives the board power to investigate and discipline any school employee, not just those that are certified.
That law looks to close a loophole where noncertified employees do not face repercussions.