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I thank my good friend Senator Pat Toomey from my neighboring State of Pennsylvania--I am from West Virginia--for working with me on this vital issue to make sure our kids remain safe in every single school across this country.
I am a father of three, a grandfather of eight, and there is nothing more important to me than protecting my children and grandchildren. The bill Senator Toomey and I are working on is common sense. Our bill makes sure all employees who work with our students pass a background check to make sure they have no criminal records or an abusive history. That includes everyone from principals, teachers, secretaries, cafeteria workers and janitors--anyone who has contact with our schoolkids. This is a real problem that demands our attention and demands it now.
Since January 1, 130 teachers across America have been arrested for sexual misconduct. At this rate that is more than one teacher per day who will sexually assault a student. As a parent, as a grandparent, and as a representative of the great State of West Virginia, inaction is simply unacceptable.
There are more than 4 million teachers and school staff employed by our public school districts throughout the United States, and there are millions of additional workers who have direct access to students, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors. Yet there is no--I repeat, there is no--national background check policy in place for people who work directly with our kids every day. Even worse, not all States require checks of child abuse and neglect registries or sex offender registry checks.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that five States--five States--don't even require background checks at all for applicants seeking employment in our school systems. In addition, not all States use both Federal and State sources of criminal data, such as a State law enforcement database or the FBI's interstate identification index.
Our bill would simply require mandatory background checks of a State criminal registry, the State child abuse and neglect registries, an FBI fingerprint check, and a check of the National Sex Offender Registry for existing and prospective employees.
Every child deserves to have at least one place where they feel safe and that harm cannot enter their life. For many of our kids these days that place is at school--not always in the home. This is truly a commonsense bill that aims to help protect our kids from sexual assault, predators, or any individuals who inappropriately behave in our schools.
This is a piece of legislation that is long overdue. It is not an unfunded mandate. I know some people will say that, and the reason I am saying it is not an unfunded mandate is because the people who want the employment have to pay. They have to pay for the background check if they want in the system.
I know there is a section in this legislation that says if a person has been an offender they have to be rehabilitated for 5 years--be clean, have a clean record for 5 years--before they can get in the system. I think that is common sense.
I would like for all my colleagues, if they would, to please consider this piece of legislation. Again, I appreciate the hard work of my colleague Senator Pat Toomey, and at this time I yield the floor.
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Madam President, I first thank my colleague from Pennsylvania, Senator Toomey. I also thank the Senator from Tennessee, for whom I also have the greatest regard for his knowledge and commitment to our children and education, to which he has dedicated his life, and also the Senator from Iowa. This is very serious and very personal to both of us. Our States have been affected. But every State has been affected.
I am not in favor of a national school board in any way, shape or form. I strongly believe in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution and States rights. But I believe that certain standards have to be set, and we have done that before as far as on a national level.
There are five problems we have always talked about, and those five problems apply to every child in America--not just every child in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee or Iowa but in America.
The first is every child should have a loving, caring adult in their life. Those are not always the biological parents or family. It could be you. It could be somebody next door. It could be an extended family member.
Every child should have a safe place in their life. Unfortunately, as has been said, it is not always the home. It might be the school.
Every child should have a healthy start. Nutrition--for many children across America, their breakfast, lunch, and nutrition comes from the school.
Every child should be taught to have a livable skill. Again, that is in the school. We depend upon that.
And the fifth thing--which is the hardest to teach--is that every child should grow to be a loving, caring adult, and be able to give back. That is set by us. We set the standards for that. A child will emulate what they see. If they love it and respect it, they will do it.
For us to say we don't believe raising to a Federal standard the well-being and safety of every child in a school system--guaranteeing that the person who is going to be teaching them, nurturing them, taking them to school, and feeding them has a clean background check and is not a child molester--is the least we can do. That is all we are asking for in this bill.
I hope that it would get the attention it needs. Again, I am also very disappointed that we cannot move it forward, and I know that precedent has been set and has been articulated by the Senator from Pennsylvania. But I would hope that both the ranking member and the chairman of the HELP Committee would maybe reconsider and take another look at it.
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