A measure to strengthen background checks of teachers and other school personnel moved out of a Senate committee Tuesday, a move spurred by a newspaper report that found the state’s policies among the weakest in the nation.
Criminal background checks would be required of all applicants for teaching licenses, applicants for other school jobs from custodian to principal, and of teachers seeking to have their licenses renewed. Teachers have their licenses renewed every five years.
Local school boards could pay for the criminal history checks, or they could pass the cost on to applicants. Leaders of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee put the cost at $40 to $50.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the State Board of Education and legislators have been considering ways to require more complete criminal background checks of teachers after USA Today gave North Carolina an “F” in its national comparison earlier this year. The state board discussed proposed legislation requiring fingerprint checks at its meeting last month.
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When the state receives an F, “you want to improve that situation no matter the cost,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican.
Senate Bill 867 must go through at least one more committee before it comes to the Senate floor for a vote.
Local school districts have background check policies, but they vary, Barefoot said. The State Board of Education cannot now require applicants for teaching licenses to be checked for criminal history.
A task force backed by state Superintendent June Atkinson had recommended in 2010 several changes that were not adopted, including legislation to have the state board conduct fingerprint background checks.
The bill would require applicants for school jobs to be fingerprinted and undergo state and national criminal background checks conducted by the state Department of Public Safety.
USA Today reported that North Carolina is one of the few states that leaves background checks of teachers to local school districts. To highlight North Carolina’s situation, USA Today reported on a teacher who was hired by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system after his license was revoked in Georgia. The teacher had been investigated in Georgia for physical altercations with students and for sending improper text messages that were sexual in nature to a student.
A characteristic of states that received a good grade in the USA Today report was that fingerprint background checks were a state requirement, Barefoot said.