by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
A bill calling for drug testing of prospective teachers and school employees in Pennsylvania has passed in the state House.
If passed by the state Senate, it would affect all candidates offered positions by traditional district schools, charter schools and cyber charter schools. Applicants would be barred from employment if the screening revealed the presence of illegal drugs.
"We introduced this piece of legislation mainly to protect our children and solve problems before [drug users] get into the system," said State Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), who sponsored the legislation.
DeLuca said he didn't have data on the pervasiveness of drug use among educators, but said "numerous" anecdotal reports motivated him to introduce the legislation four years ago. He referred to a recent example in which a 26-year-old substitute art teacher in Pittsburgh admitted to using heroin before passing out in front of his high school class.
"We've got to make sure when our children go to school, they're taught by individuals who are alert and free of drugs," DeLuca said.
A 2007 study by federal Department of Health and Human Services found that 4 percent of employees working in education reported illicit drug use. The average for all professions was 11 percent.
The same study found that, among the nation's full-time workers, 47 million (or 42.9 percent) reported that they submitted to drug-screening tests during the hiring process.