June 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Inspector General report pushes for background checks on teachers, staff

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A recent audit by the Medicaid Inspector General of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s management of School-Based Fee For Service Medicaid reimbursements for the State of Kansas has found a disturbing lack of knowledge of the people providing services in Kansas Schools.

The audit covered all Medicaid-enrolled students who had services billed on their behalf from a Local Education Agency (LEA) provider within a school-based program from January 1, 2021, through January 31, 2023. 

The Medicaid Inspector General report found multiple shortcomings.Around $23.5 million in Medicaid funds are disbursed to Kansas districts each year for services such as audiology, nursing care, social workers, and therapy services such as speech or physical therapy.

The Kansas Medical Inspector General, which has been under the Kansas Attorney General’s office since 2017, randomly audited 17 of the 287 districts in the state.

Of the 231 providers reviewed, 72 — nearly a third — did not have proof of background checks, and the Inspector General said five schools completed background checks on 14 providers after receiving a request for records.

“Our sample of providers was taken from 17 of the 287 public schools across Kansas,” the audit reads. “We added one additional school-based program for a total of 18 due to an associated school cooperative (Co-Op). Schools were picked at random, providing a cross representation in total enrollment and geographical location across the state. It is estimated there is an average of 13 providers per school district in Kansas. Accordingly, there is an estimated total of 3,731 providers working directly with children in Kansas public schools. Our sample testing indicates that 31% or 1,157 of those providers may be working without a background check.”

Additionally, the audit found that teachers are only required to have a single background check unless they have had a break in service in which their license lapses.

Accordingly, many teachers will have had just one check during their entire career, regardless of how many districts they may have worked in.

“There were three teachers in our sample group that last had background checks completed in 1997 and 1998,” the Inspector General report states. “It is reasonable to assume there are teachers in daily contact with students that have not had any type of background check done in 10-20 years.”

Background checks not required by law

While the Kansas State Department of Education requires a fingerprint-based background check for all licensed staff, there are no state statutes mandating such checks. Moreover, the IG found there are no requirements for other school employees such as bus drivers, janitors, therapists, and coaches — among others — to have a background check.

Such checks are required, however, for anyone working in other sensitive areas such as licensed childcare facilities, nursing homes, home health agencies, or hospitals.

The Inspector General found that an attempt was made to include such checks in 2015, but although it passed the Kansas Senate, it was not brought up in front of the Kansas House of Representatives.

The law would have required teachers to have a background check every five years, and teachers who were convicted or entered into a diversion agreement for certain felonies would have to notify the State Board of Education and have their license revoked.

Both Inspector General Steven D. Anderson and Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach are calling for a legal requirement for background checks every five years for all public school employees.

“Regular background checks are routine for workers in the medical community and in many functions of government,” Anderson said in a release. “It is logical that Kansans would want to ensure individuals who work directly with children are properly cleared. It would be inexcusable to allow someone convicted of a serious crime to have unsupervised access to children when a simple criminal history check could have prevented a potential problem.”

However, a report published on the Sunflower State Journal on Nov. 6, 2023, disputes the lack of background checks for teachers.

According to the Journal, KSDE says the IG overlooked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s RapBack program, which the department uses to track teachers with criminal histories.

“The RapBack program allows the agency to receive immediate notification when there is activity in the criminal history record of an individual it employs or licenses,” the Journal reported. “The RapBack program tracks the additions, deletions and modifications of criminal history records as the updates take place, and informs the agency of those changes.”

This eliminates the need to refingerprint an employee. The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers a national version of the program, which is not available in Kansas.

“KSDE assumes the Medicaid inspector general was not aware of KSDE’s use of that program, which would explain the misleading conclusion that some teachers in Kansas have not been subject to background checks in years,” KSDE said in a statement. “The criminal records of teachers licensed by the Kansas State Board of Education are updated and checked on a near-daily basis, which is why new fingerprints are not required of those teachers already enrolled in RapBack.”

It is unclear however, if the program includes non-licensed school employees.

Such problems do exist. For example, in early September of 2023, the Oklahoma State Board of Education began investigating the Western Heights School District after it became known they hired a principal who had — in the past — been charged with possession of child pornography and apparently performed as a drag queen.

In May of 2023, a Herington, Kansas, teacher was arrested on three charges of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and had been arrested in April on charges of aggravated intimidation of a witness connected to the investigation.

In January, a teacher at Gardner-Edgerton High School was arrested on charges of sexual exploitation of a child.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information about the RapBack program.)

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