There is trouble brewing in Indiana. In an editorial published Sunday by The Herald Bulletin, the newspaper takes a strong stance against a proposed background check bill that would require more comprehensive background checks of school job applicants.

We love a good debate about background checks. Obviously, we’re a little biased as to the necessity of screening applicants, employees and volunteers, but we’re also open to hearing why someone would take a hard line stance against background checks, or, as in the case of this editorial, some parts of them.

In light of this, we’re going to examine this editorial and see if we can help clean anything up. In the meantime, if you want to read the entire article, click here.

“Background checks of prospective teachers and other school employees are fundamentally important to Indiana families. Children are entrusted to educators several hours a day during the academic year, and parents should be secure in the knowledge that teachers, administrators and school support staff are law-abiding citizens.

However, Indiana House Bill 1068… goes a few steps over the line in attempting to establish more comprehensive background checks of school job applicants.”

Our Take: Yes, background checks ARE fundamentally important. Not just for those who work in the education field, but for everyone, especially workers in the healthcare, transportation, ministry, non-profit, government, and financial fields. People who work near, around, or with children in particular should be held to high standards and parents should feel secure in knowing they are, as the opening paragraph advocates.

“It would require a financial check as well as a criminal background check, and would also stipulate that school employees should be rechecked every five years.”

Our Take: A comprehensive background check SHOULD include a financial check. Credit reports turn up more information than a candidate’s credit history. Aliases are also often uncovered which can allow for a whole new set of information to be uncovered. Financial responsibility, or irresponsibility, can speak to an applicants trustworthiness and reliability, two attributes that are hard to determine by a resume or interview alone.

When it comes to protecting the safety of our children, routine screening of employees shouldn’t be up for debate. Arrests aren’t always disclosed and unless administrators are actively hunting negative information about their educators, they won’t turn up this sort of criminal history without a background check.

“We agree on one point: Indiana sorely needs to upgrade its criminal background check of applicants for jobs at schools. Currently, state law does not require a check of criminal records in other states, nor does it call for standard federal court checks. As a result, a teacher without legal transgressions in Indiana can get hired here despite a conviction for child solicitation in another state. That oversight has jeopardized the safety of some Hoosier students in the past and will compromise others in the future if it’s not corrected.”

Our Take: We agree. This has to change. NOW.

“But the bill should stop there. What need is there for a financial background check of classroom teachers? That seems overly invasive.”

Our Take: Background checks are not invasive, they are, as the editorial earlier stated, “fundamentally important to… families.” If a background screen is fundamentally important, why stop short of running as thorough a report as possible? Most credit checks for someone applying with a school district or educational institution will be considered a ‘soft inquiry,’ although this may depend on the type of position being applied for. These inquiries are like account reviews of your financial situation and can show how you’ve handled your credit over a period of time. This may prove to employers that you are a responsible, hard worker whose been able to achieve a long term goal (pay off a loan), or that you are swimming in debt and may have made some irresponsible decisions (buying a car straight out of college before accepting your first post-grad job).  These character traits are meaningful to employers.

“Yes, check the financial background of those who handle money for the school system. A history of bankruptcies, for example, is an indicator that applicant wouldn’t be competent managing a school budget.”

Our Take: Yes. Yes. Yes!

“Likewise, repeating criminal background checks every five years for employees already working in a school system seems over the top. Administrators should know enough about their staff that criminal charges would come to the surface quickly. Also, mandatory five-year criminal checks would cost schools precious funding.”

Our Take: There are two key phrases in here that we disagree with. The first is “should know.” Of course, in a perfect world, administrators would know enough about its employees that they’d become aware of criminal charges. But this is not always the case, especially for misdemeanor crimes. Don’t believe us? Read this scathing report from Public School Review. Furthermore, even though school districts may be aware of what’s happening behind the scenes, they may not choose to share it with parents. This is wrong, too. Read this editorial from North Dakota to learn about several current examples of trying to sweep teacher wrongdoings under the rug.

The phrase “cost schools precious funding” is also misleading. There are many affordable options to running maintenance background checks. You can learn about the solutions provided by Active Screening here. Additionally, it is perfectly acceptable to ask teachers to pay for their own maintenance background checks to keep their jobs. In some cases, this would cost a teacher just $20 every five years.

“So, it’s clear that House Bill 1068 should be voted down, or completely altered to focus on requiring criminal background checks of school job applicants across all states and the federal court system.”

Our Take: It’s very rare that a bill comes into committee already a winner. That’s the purpose of committees, and, at the end of the day, allowing our elected lawmakers to make decisions about proposed laws. It’s fine to keep tweaking this bill to beef up its requirement of criminal background checks across state lines and include the federal court system. But don’t take away the items that need to be there. They are “fundamentally important.”

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