Operators of Louisiana child care centers said Friday they are bracing for sweeping changes in criminal background checks for about 16,000 employees, including doubled costs for State Police, sex registry and other reviews.
The requirements stem from a federal law aimed at ensuring the protection of children at the centers.
No one disputes the intent, but those who run the centers say the additional expenses will be significant.
Others questioned how the state will process 16,000 applications for background checks between March 1 and Sept. 30 to meet the federal deadline.
Louisiana is using its fourth waiver to comply with the law, and officials of the state Department of Education said failure to do so by next year could endanger $88 million in federal dollars for child care.
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Under the current rules, operators of child care centers pay $41 for a criminal background check for their employees, which includes a review by State Police and a fingerprinting fee.
The new rules will make the review a five-point check and cost $88-$93 per worker.
That includes a fingerprint-based search of the Louisiana criminal history record; fingerprint-based search of the federal criminal history; a search by the state Department of Child and Family Services of the State Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect; a search of the Louisiana Sex Offender and Child Predator Registry and a search of the National Sex Offender Registry.
The background checks are good for five years.
Cindy Bishop, executive director of the Childcare Association of Louisiana, said the higher costs are by far the key issue for operators of the centers. "Huge increase," she said.
"One of our centers in Ascension Parish, their costs would be $10,000," Bishop said.
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"Think about this," she said. "You are not only having to get all of your prospective employees background checked. You are having to get your current employees background checked."
Bishop made her comments after a 90-minute session for operators held by officials of the state Department of Education, the eighth and final in a series of "road shows" on the issue.
In the past, owners and operators of child care centers applied for background checks themselves through a local sheriff's office or State Police.
Under the new law, the state Department of Education will process the checks, which means operators will submit applications to the state agency.
The higher fees for background checks will cost $50,000 for about 500 employees of the Regina Coeli Child Development Center in the Florida parishes, said Sandra Flad, human resources director.
Flad, who attended the meeting, said the center has 15 sites and around 100 new workers per year.
"Our turnover in this industry is horrendous," she said. "It is just part of the industry we live in."
State officials, who repeatedly noted that the changes stem from a federal law, said they know the higher costs are a sensitive subject.
"This is a big change for all of you," said Valerie Black, program manager for criminal background checks in the state education department.
"This is a big change for Louisiana," she said. "We really need this to work."
Officials said the fees will be reviewed yearly in hopes they can be trimmed.
The charges are higher if centers hire workers who have lived in another state in the past five years.
In that case fees will range from $103 to $108 per worker.
Costs of the new background checks were a recurring topic during a question and answer session with officials of the centers.
Can operators of child care centers be reimbursed if potential hires are declared ineligible?
That is a question for an attorney or the state Department of Labor, state officials said.
Can operators of early learning centers stipulate that new hires have to pay back costs of the review if they leave within three months?
Another question for an attorney, they said.
Starting March 1, requests for criminal background checks under the new system will be staggered to avoid a sudden crush of requests.