New Indiana Teacher Background Check Bill Arouses Contentious Debates

By Michael Klazema on 1/29/2015

Indiana House Bill 1068 is a piece of proposed teacher background check legislation that, if passed, would change the way that educators are screened, both before and after hiring. Existing state laws only require state criminal checks, and only as a pre-employment measure. That means that individuals with serious criminal convictions in other states can be hired as teachers. It also means that an existing teacher could commit a slew of crimes after being hired, and continue to work in a school without consequence.

House Bill would correct one of those issues, but would leave the other unresolved. The legislation proposes that teacher background checks be updated every five years. It's a smart idea that would help to keep teachers accountable to their employers and honest about any criminal activity that might take place after their hire date. Less smart is the fact that the bill evidently includes no provisions that would update the reach of Indiana teacher background checks. Quite simply, state checks are not enough to ensure the trustworthiness of a teacher or guarantee the safety of a child. All states should have laws in place that require nationwide criminal checks for any educators who spend substantial time with children. Otherwise, sex offenders, child abusers, or other dangerous individuals could easily slip into the system, simply because their crimes were committed in another state.

Instead, House Bill 1068 includes a proposal to implement credit history checks for Indiana teachers. This section of the legislation has caught a lot of attention and generated substantial debate and criticism. It's not difficult to see why that is: generally, credit history checks are only run for jobs that would involve the handling of money or business finances. Since teachers don't generally handle money, aside from maybe a few field trip payments for students, it's curious that such a provision would even be proposed. To put it simply, financial history is just not a relevant piece of information to know about a teacher. It has no bearing on a person's fitness or qualification to work with kids or educate.

Given all of the contentious debate around House Bill 1068, it's highly unlikely that the Indiana legislation will pass at least not in its current form. Hopefully, though, the House will opt to revise the bill instead of completely scrapping it. After all, repeat background checks are an important policy to have in place in schools, and Indiana schools do need a bit of an update to their background check policies. Perhaps the provision about credit history checks could be replaced with a plan to require nationwide checks.


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