Background Checks on School Employees

Right now there could be hundreds of criminals working in school districts around Florida that school officials don't even know about.

People who apply for jobs at a school have to go through a criminal background check, but once they're hired, there's no requirement that anyone continue to check to make sure the person stays crime-free. However, a bill pending at the capitol could close the loophole in the law.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement estimates keeping school employees' fingerprints on file and regularly cross- referencing them would cost an extra $4 per employee. The job applicant who already pays $52 for his or her background check would pay the fee.

Senator Dave Aronberg says he was shocked when he found this out. He said, “you have school employees with felonies in their background but there was no action taken against them because these felonies occurred after they were hired. That's the loophole in the law.”

Aronberg filed a bill to close the loophole after a television news investigation turned up more than 50 people who'd been arrested for everything from drugs to aggravated battery in three southwest Florida school districts.

Each school district has a machine like this one to take a job applicant's fingerprints. The prints are then electronically submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The bill would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to keep those employees' fingerprints on file. Then, when the system is updated next year, they could begin cross-referencing the prints with a massive database.

Aronberg says his bill should be a no-brainer, an extra step to help keep criminals out of Florida's schools. But the bill's biggest obstacle may be time. There is less than three weeks left of the regular legislative session, and the bill is still stuck in committee.