A Complete Guide to Teacher Background Checks

Jennifer Brozic
December 15, 2023
5 min read

Schools are entrusted with teaching children and keeping them safe throughout the day. Teacher background checks can help school employers maintain a safe learning environment by determining whether job candidates are eligible and qualified for a role. Every state in the US has laws requiring criminal background checks for K-12 teachers, and 38 states have laws requiring criminal background checks for other school employees who work directly with children without supervision. When running background checks, employers are responsible for remaining compliant with local, state, and federal regulations.


In this guide, we'll take an in-depth look at the screenings included in a teacher background check, what laws apply, how long a background check takes, and how to order background checks as an educational institution.

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What is a teacher background check?

A teacher background check provides information about a school job candidate or employee’s eligibility and qualifications for a role. Depending on the scope of the screening, this may include a search of public records, databases, and other information sources to learn about a candidate’s criminal history, education, employment history, professional licenses, driving record, and more. 

Some states require teachers to undergo background checks every few years to ensure no disqualifying convictions have occurred since their initial pre-employment screening and that any professional licenses remain active. Others may even require educational institutions to run continuous criminal background checks that automatically notify the employer if a teacher is arrested or convicted for certain offenses.

Schools often conduct the following screenings to gain additional information about job applicants:

Teacher background check laws and requirements

Teacher background checks must comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations. Here's a closer look at some common teacher background check requirements in the US.

Federal teacher background check laws

No federal laws require school systems to run background checks on teachers, but all 50 states have laws that do. Employers that work with a consumer reporting agency (CRA) to facilitate the background check process must adhere to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The FCRA requires employers to provide candidates with written notice of their intention to conduct a background check, get written consent from the candidate before ordering the report, and provide the candidate with a summary of their rights. If you decide not to make a candidate a job offer due to information included in a background check, you should follow the adverse action process.

The FCRA also limits the reporting of arrests not resulting in a conviction, civil judgments, lawsuits, and liens to seven years for jobs with an annual salary of less than $75,000. The restriction does not apply to jobs with a yearly salary over $75,000, and the FCRA doesn't limit the lookback period on other searches, including education, professional license, employment verification, and criminal convictions.

Employers may also prioritize following guidance provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination. If a candidate has a criminal conviction that doesn’t automatically disqualify them from working in a school based on the laws that apply to the school, the EEOC encourages employers to consider the nature of the offense, how long ago it occurred, and how relevant it is to the position before making an employment decision. 

State teacher background check laws

School employers should make sure to review state or local jurisdiction laws that apply to the hiring or background check process, and consult with their legal counsel to help mitigate risk when conducting background screenings for educators and school employees.

Here are some examples of laws governing teacher background checks by state.

    • California state education code requires fingerprint-based criminal background checks of public and private school teachers and other school employees who interact with children. Individuals convicted of sex offenses, violent crimes, such as kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, and carjacking, or other serious felonies, such as robbery and certain drug offenses, are prohibited from working in a school setting.

    • Florida requires employees of traditional, charter, and nonpublic schools to undergo fingerprinting and consent to a background check as part of their employment screening. Candidates must submit their fingerprints to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a statewide criminal and juvenile records check, and to the FBI for a federal criminal records check. State law automatically disqualifies sex offenders and people who were convicted of, plead guilty to, had adjudication withheld for, or plead no contest to various felonies, including sexual misconduct, kidnapping, assault, and others prohibited by Florida Statute 1012.315.

    • Georgia requires everyone hired by the Georgia Department of Education to undergo a criminal background check and drug testing.

    • Illinois law requires candidates to undergo a fingerprint-based background check in the school district where they will be working. Candidate fingerprints are run against the Illinois State Sex Offender and Murder and Violent Offender Against Youth databases. Illinois law prohibits schools from hiring people convicted of sex offenses, narcotics offenses, first-degree murder, and attempted first-degree murder. It doesn't prohibit hiring candidates who have been convicted of other felonies.

    • Ohio requires candidates to undergo a state criminal background check and FBI background check upon hiring and every five years thereafter. Fingerprint background checks must be completed through the National WebCheck electronic system. Schools can't hire people who were convicted of or plead guilty to sex offenses, violent crimes, and other serious felonies.

    • Texas requires fingerprint-based background checks for substitute teachers, full-time teachers, educational aides, and other school employees and contractors who have direct contact with students. It requires name-based searches for volunteers and student teachers. The law automatically disqualifies registered sex offenders and candidates convicted of a felony against a minor under Texas Penal Code Title 5 (crimes against persons) from employment within a school. Local districts in Texas may enact additional standards limiting who can work with students.

    • Ban the Box laws are in force in many states and local jurisdictions throughout the country. These laws affect the type of information an employer can ask about a candidate's criminal history, when they can ask, and when they can conduct a background check during the application process. You can find out more about Ban the Box laws in your state from your state's government resources.

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What does a teacher background check consist of?

The information a background check shows varies based on the screenings you conduct. States generally require employers to check the criminal records of teachers, which may show misdemeanor and felony convictions, arrests, and incarceration history. Criminal history searches may include a state or FBI fingerprint check, a review of local and state court records, and a search of state abuse and neglect registries.

The state board of education in many states also requires teachers to have an educator certification before they begin working in the classroom. Employers often need to verify the status of candidate certifications, which may include a search of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Clearinghouse. The NASDTEC Clearinghouse is a database that includes state-reported information about teachers who lose their licenses because of abuse or sexual misconduct.

Schools may verify the colleges or universities a candidate attended, enrollment dates, graduation dates, degrees earned, and professional development opportunities the candidate has participated in. Employers may also check professional references and speak with former employers to confirm previous positions and employment dates. A teacher background check may also include drug testing for current and prior substance use, depending on local and state regulations. 

What disqualifies candidates from being a teacher? 

One of the reasons school systems conduct teacher background checks is to help maintain a safe learning environment for students. There's no universal standard about whether a person with a felony conviction can be a teacher because laws about what disqualifies someone from working in a school vary from state to state. However, convictions for sex offenses, violent crimes, certain drug offenses, child abuse, and other serious felonies typically result in disqualification for employment in a school.

How long does a teacher background check take?

The average turnaround time for completing a background check is three to five business days, but it can take longer, depending on the records you search and whether you conduct the check directly or work with a third-party professional background check vendor, also sometimes referred to as a consumer reporting agency (CRA). If you handle background checks in-house, you must verify each piece of information separately, which is time-consuming and may increase your risk for errors. 

Working with a CRA, like Checkr, to search public records, check references, and verify a candidate's education, employment, and professional licenses can help speed up turnaround times without sacrificing safety. 84% of background checks at Checkr are completed in under 15 minutes, and simplified compliance workflows help keep your team on track and manage risk.

How to get a background check for teachers

There are two primary ways to get a background check for teachers. Your team can do the work yourselves or you can work with a background check vendor. Handling background checks directly is labor intensive. You’ll likely need to manually order and track each candidate's background check from government agencies, courthouses, and other public records and databases, and manage all candidate communication along the way.  

Employers that conduct background checks internally may need to contact every educational institution, previous employer, and professional reference separately to confirm each piece of information a candidate provides. A best practice is to keep candidates informed on the progress of their background check, and be prepared to answer any questions they have. Employers must also stay up to date on all the local, state, and federal guidelines for background checks to avoid compliance violations.

A CRA like Checkr can give you access to streamlined workflows that help simplify and expedite the background check process from start to finish. Easy-to-use ordering processes, automated notifications, and adjudication and compliance tools can reduce turnaround times—and your organization's level of risk. Plus, a background check partner like Checkr's support team can help field candidate questions, minimizing the workload put on your human resources team.

Keep in mind that most educational institutions require teachers to get a fingerprint check through their state agency, and this will most likely need to be done in-person no matter what approach you take to background checks.

Frequently asked questions about teacher background checks

Background checks are an important part of the application process that can help employers make more informed hiring decisions. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about background checks for teachers.

What do schools look for in background checks?

The purpose of a teacher background check is twofold—to maintain a safe learning environment and to ensure candidates are qualified for their roles. Background checks typically include reviewing the candidate's criminal history, education, professional licenses, and previous employment. Candidates may also need to pass a drug test.

How much does a background check for school employees cost?

Background checks for school employees can range from about $30 to over $100, depending on the screenings you order, the state where you operate, document fees, the cost of labor, and more. For example, in Ohio, a state criminal background check costs about $37 per candidate, plus the cost of labor required by hiring teams ordering, following up on, and reviewing every report. 

CRAs often offer custom background check packages with tiered pricing based on the screenings you include and the volume of checks, along with dedicated support for your candidates. At Checkr, background check packages start at $29.99.

Get started with a teacher background check from Checkr

Working with Checkr for your teacher background checks can help you maintain a safe learning environment for your students and support compliance with the latest local, state, and federal regulations and fair hiring laws. Checkr's advanced technology improves efficiency and accuracy by replacing many manual processes with simplified, automated workflows that keep candidates moving through your hiring process. Choose from customizable screening packages for school employers, including criminal record and sex offender checks, employment verification, education verification, driving record check, professional license verification, reference checks, and more. Get started with Checkr today.

Disclaimer

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.


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About the author

Jennifer writes about a variety of topics, including background checks, employee benefits, small business insurance, risk management, workplace culture, and more. Her work includes educational articles, blogs, e-books, white papers, and case studies.

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