Absent action by the Pennsylvania Legislature (surprise, surprise), U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is turning up the heat on Congress to approve legislation to prevent school officials from letting actual or suspected child abusers quietly resign or take teaching jobs or other positions elsewhere.
Republican Toomey is the author of a bipartisan bill (Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, is co-sponsor) that would ban the practice known as "passing the trash."
"Protecting kids from sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue. It is simply common sense," Toomey said in a commentary on the New Era's editorial page last week.
Under Toomey's bill, state education agencies receiving federal funds would be required to perform background checks on all employees and contractors who have access to children.
The bill would require the checks to be done regularly "to prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks," Toomey adds.
The bill specifically prohibits the practice of rehiring teachers and other school employees who quietly "resigned" from a previous school after being accused of abuse against children.
Teachers and school personnel in Pennsylvania go through extensive background checks, but there is not yet specific prohibition of "passing the trash."
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are all in favor of protecting students.
But they complain that criminal background checks have a "racially disparate impact" and that legislation aimed at preventing "passing the trash" could damage worker protections provided by union contracts.
Legislation at the state level has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but the two chambers have yet to iron out the language differences between the two bills.
Inaction on legislation, whether at the state or federal level, is disconcerting, given the seriousness of the issue.
Since Jan. 1, nearly 300 teachers have been arrested in the U.S. for sexual misconduct with children - more than one for each day of the school year. Seventeen of those arrested were from Pennsylvania.
The arrests are only for the incidents police know about. How many more incidents go unreported as schools continue to choose to "pass the trash"?
Toomey's efforts to protect schoolchildren should be rewarded by Congress passing his common sense legislation. Barring that, Pennsylvania's Legislature should pick up the ball.
Action is overdue.