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Unions Raise Concerns About Teacher Background-Check Proposal

The national teachers' unions are in a bit of a squeeze play on the issue of teacher background checks: They're for the concept in principle, but twitchy on how a recent House-passed proposal might affect their current members.

HB 2083, passed Oct. 22, would require states receiving federal Title I funds to make sure they're not employing any teachers guilty of violent or sexual crimes against minors.

The National Education Association objects to the measure on the grounds that the requirements might have a disparate racial impact, or "run counter" to existing state laws.

In its letter, American Federation of Teachers lists several concerns, including cost burden and duplicative efforts, among others. But the real meat is in the fourth paragraph, in which it says that the legislation should defer to existing state laws and, importantly, teacher contracts.

This is not a throwaway line: Unions are very concerned about any federal legislation that could supercede employment provisions in existing contracts, because of the precedent it sets regarding collective bargaining. 

AFT's letter proposes a few solutions, one of which is allowing states to maintain their current laws if they're as rigorous as the federal proposal (it's unclear who would get to make that judgment call). Another suggestion is to restrict checks under this law to new employees, rather than to all teachers. That option, though, would essentially grandfather in veteran teachers in many states.

Complicating matters, when I queried the AFT president to clarify whether the checks should apply to all teachers or only newbies, she said: 

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