A House committee amended a bill approved by the Senate requiring more than 60,000 public school district employees in direct contact with students to undergo fingerprint and criminal background checks every five years.
The Senate prefers educators and support staff pay the $50 fee, while the House Education Committee voted to give local school boards the option of picking up the tab.
In addition, the Senate version mandates Kansas’ one-half dozen “innovative” school districts, which don’t have to abide by state laws and regulations, pay the fee rather than teachers. The House panel concluded Thursday all 35,000 certified educators and 27,000 nonlicensed employees working in districts statewide should be treated the same.
“I think it’s a good bill,” said Rep. Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican on the House committee. “It certainly shores up the employee factor.”
Rep. Amanda Grosserode, R-Lenexa, said adults who worked with children at her church were subjected to a criminal background review every three years.
“Why? Our children are that important. The basis for this is a solid one,” Grosserode said.
Neither chamber’s version of Senate Bill 70 would apply the same criminal examination standard to employees of Kansas private schools.
Rep. Carolyn Bridges, D-Wichita, said requiring background checks was prudent, but the Senate’s plan to impose the entire $3 million cost on teachers and other employees would be a mistake. She also raised questions about why the bill was silent on the legion of volunteers and college students involved with children in the K-12 public schools.
“It seems to negate the whole argument we’re talking about,” Bridges said.
The House committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, to allow districts the option of paying the fee for certified educators but not other employees such as janitors, bus drivers or paraprofessionals.
In 2002, Kansas initiated a program of fingerprinting new hires in public school districts. The reform bill would subject veteran employees who started before that date to the same Kansas Bureau of Investigation scrutiny applicable to their peers.
The version approved by the Senate by a vote of 29-10 in February was put forward by Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican. He said the fingerprint renewal every five years was necessary because a person could accumulate scars and that fingerprints could change over time.