Do we want Chaplains in Public Schools? – Part 1: What’s in SB 763?

By Ashley Bean Thornton

(Part 1 of a 3-part blog series about a new law to allow Texas Public Schools to hire school chaplains.  This post just covers the nuts and bolts of what the bill says and doesn’t say.)

What does SB 763 say? 

One of the bills passed in the Texas Legislative session that has now become law is SB 763. It allows public schools to employ chaplains or accept chaplains on campus as volunteers.

This bill caused quite a ruckus at first because its original language proposed that “a school district may employ a chaplain instead of a school counselor to perform the duties required of a school counselor.”

This original wording met with quite a bit of pushback, mainly, because it seems to misunderstand the responsibilities of a school counselor.

According to the Texas Education Code (TEC), Chapter 33, “The primary responsibility of a school counselor is to counsel students to fully develop each student’s academic, career, personal, and social abilities.”   This includes some responsibilities that we lay-people might think of as stereotypical “counselor/chaplain” work.  For example, a school counselor’s job may include working with students who are at risk of dropping out, or becoming substance abusers, or participating in gangs, or getting into fights, or experiencing bullying, or considering suicide.

In addition to that kind of behavioral or mental health counseling, however, school counselors also provide specific academic and vocational counseling.  They help students who need modified instructional plans.  They help identify gifted and talented students.  They help build class schedules. They help interpret standardized test results. They help with career planning and post-secondary education planning. They help with identifying and applying for college scholarships.

In other words, school counselors do a whole list of things that chaplains are not trained or in any way qualified to do.

Once the legislators more completely understood the role of a school counselor, the language of the bill was amended.  The bill that was finally signed into law says “…A school district or open-enrollment charter school may employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain to provide support, services, and programs for students as assigned by the board of trustees of the district or the governing body of the school.”

The final bill (now law) makes no reference to school counselors. The folks advocating for the bill insist that the reworded bill no longer advocates hiring chaplains instead of school counselors, but as additional staff to work alongside school counselors.

How will schools pay for these chaplains?

Per the Texas education code, school districts receive an allotment of money from the state to help pay expenses related to safety and security (Section 48.115(b), Education Code).  That money may be used for any of a long list of things intended to make schools safer, for example, improvements to infrastructure, security cameras and communication technology, peace officers, safety training, etc. etc.

Included in that list of possible safety and security measures is a provision that the allotment money may be used to prevent, identify, and manage emergencies and threats, using “evidence-based, effective prevention practices.”   These “evidence-based, effective prevention practices” include:

  • providing licensed counselors, social workers and individuals trained in restorative discipline and restorative justice practices,
  • Providing mental health personnel and support,
  • Providing behavioral health services,
  • developing and implementing programs focused on restorative justice practices, culturally relevant instruction, and providing mental health support,
  • providing programs related to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.

This bill (SB 763) gives school districts the option to add providing a chaplain (and/or providing services and programs provided by a chaplain) to the list of “evidence-based, effective prevention practices” for which they are allowed to spend money from their safety and security allotment.

In other words, the thinking is that campus chaplains can be an effective part of a plan to alleviate mental health crises and to reduce behaviors such as fights and bullying.  By extension then, they can be an effective part of a plan to help prevent tragedies such as suicide and school shootings.  Therefore, according to this line of thought, it makes sense to pay for chaplains with money set aside for safety and security.

Why would we need these chaplains?  What about separation of church and state?  Is this a good idea for Waco schools?  I’ll wrestle with those questions in upcoming posts…meanwhile…

Here are some of the notable provisions of the bill…

The school district decides – A school district MAY employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain to provide support, services, and programs for students as assigned by the board of trustees.   They don’t HAVE to do it.

School boards must vote within 6 months – The bill takes effect September 1, 2023.  School boards throughout Texas must hold a record vote by March 1 stating whether or not they will avail themselves of this option.

State Board for Educator Certification not required – According to the bill, a chaplain is not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.  There is no mention of what training/certification the chaplain IS required to have.

Background check required – Chaplain must comply with criminal background check requirements, may not be a sex offender.

Paid out of safety and security funds – As mentioned above, the cost of these chaplains may be paid out of school safety and security and allotment.

Here’s how McLennan County elected representatives voted on this bill…

  • Birdwell (Senate) – Yea
  • Anderson (House) – Yea
  • Orr (House) – Yea
  • Abbott – signed 6/18/23





  1. Carmen Saenz on September 3, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Allowing unlicensed chaplains, whether paid or volunteer, is a horrendous idea. An untrained counselor, chaplain, or volunteer can do so much harm, even if their intentions may be good, to fragile children.
    The proposed amendments for these chaplains to have training did not pass.

    “House Democrats also offered amendments to bar proselytizing or attempts to convert students from one religion to another; to require chaplains to receive consent from the parents of school children; and to make schools provide chaplains from any faith or denomination requested by students. All of those amendments failed.”

  2. […] blog series about SB 763, a new law to allow Texas Public Schools to hire school chaplains.  Part 1 covers the nuts and bolts of what the new law says.  This post talks about what it means to be a […]

  3. […] blog series about SB 763, a new law to allow Texas Public Schools to hire school chaplains.  Part 1 covers the nuts and bolts of what the new law says.  Part 2 talks about the role of the chaplain. […]

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