Missing Information

By Bess Keller — September 13, 2005 2 min read
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A bill that would make it tougher for people with criminal records to work in Michigan schools may force thousands of teachers to get fingerprinted—again.

Though required for teachers and many other school employees as a condition of hiring since 1993, the fingerprints were routinely thrown out after being used to clear potential hires of having past criminal convictions.

The news that the fingerprint records were gone came as a shock to legislators pressing for the bill, and to the state teachers’ union. And it raised the question of who will pay for the refingerprinting, which costs up to $70 per person.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police, which uses the fingerprints to identify those with criminal records, said the lack of prints was no secret.

“We did exactly what people wanted us to do in 1993,” said Shanon Akans. “People said then, ‘If [employees] are successful in passing these checks, why in the world would the Michigan state police need to maintain them on file?’ ”

She added that finding storage space for the records was also a problem.

Lawmakers had nearly finished with a package of bills known as the Student Safety Initiative, which includes the fingerprinting legislation, when they learned at the end of last month that many current school employees would have to be refingerprinted.

The legislative package, which has the support of Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, aims to better protect children from sex offenders. Among other provisions, it expands the list of who is required to undergo a criminal-background check to all full- and part-time school employees, including janitors, cafeteria workers, and coaches.

Lawmakers scurried to make last-minute changes, giving school districts until July 1, 2008, to ensure all their employees are fingerprinted. But who pays is not specified in the bill.

The cost could be “devastating” to already hard-pressed school districts, argued Al Short, the director of government relations for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

On the other hand, teachers who have already paid for fingerprinting once may be loath to shell out again.

But a spokesman for the lower chamber’s Republicans, who are in the majority, said the bill might pass without any help to districts for picking up the tab, which has been estimated at close to $70 million for the more than 270,000 employees. The districts are likely to pass the costs on to individuals.

“Everybody was kind of caught off guard by this,” said Mr. Short, who added that he expects more legislative tweaking in the future.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week


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