TOPEKA — In an effort to better shield classrooms from convicted felons, Kansas is moving toward requiring certain educators to submit fingerprints when renewing their teacher licenses so they can be checked against a state criminal database.
By JOHN MILBURN
The Associated Press
In a 9-1 vote this week, the State Board of Education endorsed the policy change during a follow-up to an August discussion of how to strengthen a law requiring prosecutors to notify the state about criminal convictions of people seeking or renewing teaching licenses.
If it is our job to police it, perhaps we need to say this is the way its going to be, said board member Deena Horst of Salina.
Kansas has been fingerprinting applicants for new teaching licenses since 2002. The new policy would extend the requirement to those teachers renewing licenses who had never been fingerprinted.
Teachers must renew their licenses every five years, but they would be fingerprinted only on the first renewal. Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis estimated the policy change would apply to about 35,000 teachers in Kansas but said the number of actual renewals would be about 5,000 less because of retirements.
Board member Steve Roberts of Overland Park cast the only vote against the new policy, questioning if fingerprinting would be the best way to enforce the policy.
Id like a definition of what problem were trying to solve, he said, adding that he supported efforts to prevent pedophiles from being in schools.
The board will finalize the policy and hold a public hearing on the change later this year.
State law bars the board from issuing licenses to anyone convicted of sex crimes, child abuse, murder or certain other offenses.
Prosecutors are required to regularly report all felony convictions to the Department of Education so it can check them against employment rosters. But there are no penalties for not complying.
Theres no teeth in the statute, board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson said.
Scott Gordon, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Education, said the reporting would help the agency do a more thorough job of deciding if action should be taken against a teacher who has been charged but potentially convicted on a lesser charge that wasnt among the felony sex or drug crimes listed in the statute.
Willard said he has spoken with Attorney General Derek Schmidt about getting prosecutors to comply. A spokesman for Schmidt said the attorney general has repeatedly encouraged prosecutors to follow the law and is willing to continue to work with the board of education.
The board also voted to develop a new monthly report that would be sent to county prosecutors and district attorneys for them to return with updates on any new felony convictions involving licensed teachers.
The state also will make outreach efforts to the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association to encourage more compliance with the law, as well as speaking with the judicial branch about increasing awareness.
Teachers renewing their licenses will pay a one-time fee of $50 for the fingerprinting, which will be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for background checks.