EL PASO, Texas - Out of the two and a half million students in Texas public schools, more than half of them are in school districts that have exempted themselves from requiring teachers to be certified by the state, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The TEA recently notified the legislature about the numbers. TEA Spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said the agency gave the update because it's the law.
"When they passed House Bill 1842 two years ago and created Districts of Innovation, (they) asked us as part of the law to notify them when more than 50% of our students state wide are in districts that exempted themselves from specific provisions," Callahan said.
Callahan said there are some restrictions. "You absolutely have to be certified to teach bilingual, ESL (English as a second language), and special education," TEA Spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said. "But otherwise, you don't have to be certified."
She added this is the second time the TEA has notified the legislature about districts that have exempted themselves from provisions. "The first one was for school start dates in August," Callahan said.
In 2016, a law was passed allowing Texas school districts in good academic standing to become "Districts of Innovation." That designation allows school districts to make changes, or have more flexibility, when it comes to things like class size, the length of the school day and whether teachers have state certification.
According to the TEA's website, four districts in El Paso County are Districts of Innovation: El Paso ISD, Clint ISD, Fabens ISD, and Anthony ISD.
The designation allows districts to make changes, or have more flexibility, when it comes to class size, the length of the school day, educator certification and teacher contracts. Districts cannot exempt federal and state requirements when it comes to curriculum or assessments.
EPISD officials told ABC-7 all district teachers are state certified, but it does reserve the option of hiring non-certified teachers as a last resort: for example, hiring a professor who is certified to teach at the college level, to teach algebra to high schoolers.
"It is an option. It's not one we've been confronted with having to enforce at this time," said Melissa Martinez with EPISD.
A spokeswoman for Clint ISD said they require all of their teachers to be certified. At Fabens ISD, the school principal at Cotton Valley Early College High School said they've hired 3 teachers who weren't certified, but had credentials for a college instructor. He said one of those teachers also recently became certified to teach high schoolers.