Criminal background check fees to be waived for thousands of Colorado educators caught up in state bookkeeping snafu

State education department spokesman said department leaders sought the fee waiver after hearing from teachers frustrated about going through the background check process again.

(Bram Cymet/Creative Commons)

By Ann SchimkeChalkbeat

Colorado educators required to get new criminal background checks because of a bookkeeping problem will not have to pay the $39.50 processing fee to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation when they re-submit their fingerprints, state education department officials said Friday.

The decision to waive the fee — and reimburse those who’ve already paid the fee — came after talks between the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which conducts the background checks. It will apply to about 3,000 educators who were found to have missing or incomplete background checks during a routine FBI audit of education department files in 2015.

State education department spokesman Jeremy Meyer said department leaders sought the fee waiver after hearing from teachers frustrated about going through the background check process again.

“We understand it’s a hassle,” he said. “It’s a bookkeeping error and we didn’t want to have them pay for our mistake … or computer malfunction.”

A separate $40 submission fee normally charged by the education department when educators go through the background check process was waived previously for those affected by the problem.

All told, the 2015 FBI audit revealed that 10,000 of the 120,000 educators licensed by the state were missing complete background checks. However, around 7,000 of those employees are now retired or inactive and not expected to renew their licenses.

State officials say background checks were conducted for the employees when they first became licensed, but for unknown reasons the results didn’t transmit to the education department’s database.

Letters asking educators with missing background checks to submit new fingerprints began going out more than a year ago. About 1,900 educators — teachers, principals and other types of school employees — have already submitted fingerprints for new background checks and 1,100 more have yet to do so.

Meyer said the process for obtaining a waiver for the $39.50 fee or getting reimbursed if the fee was already paid will be finalized by the end of the month.

“I think this will be pretty welcome news,” Meyer said.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.