State BOE to revise teacher licensing rules
TOPEKA (AP) — The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to require certain Kansas educators renewing their teaching licenses to submit fingerprints for checks against a state criminal database in effort to better screen classrooms for convicted felons.
The 9-1 vote came during a follow-up to the board's discussion in August 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 it's 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 only be fingerprinted 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.
State law bars the board from issuing licenses to anyone convicted of sex crimes, child abuse, murder or certain other offenses.
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 wasn't among the felony sex or drug crimes listed in statute.
"I don't want to wait until a case is over before I find out how the case has been pled down," Gordon said.
The board will finalize the policy and hold a public hearing on the change later this year.
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.
"There's no teeth in the statute," board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson said.
Willard said he has spoken with Attorney General Derek Schmidt about getting prosecutors to comply with the reporting statute.
Don Brown, spokesman for Schmidt, said the attorney general had "repeatedly" encouraged prosecutors comply with the law and was 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 involved 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.
Board member Steve Roberts of Overland Park cast the lone vote against the new policy, questioning if fingerprinting would be the best way to enforce the policy.
"I'd like a definition of what problem we're trying to solve," he said, adding that he supported efforts to prevent pedophiles from being in schools.
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. Although applicants will not be required to submit to fingerprinting for subsequent renewals, a fee is charged of all teachers to run their name against criminal records annually to verify their status.
Gordon said if a teacher renewing their license did have a prior conviction for a felony they could always petition the courts to have the record expunged so that it wouldn't appear on a background check.