One Week to Go!
Unfinished Ed Business in the Legislature
With the 2022 legislative session scheduled to end on May 4th, there’s still a lot of unfinished business before the legislature, including several critical education items on children’s mental health, college access, school funding, public school choice, and teacher quality. With the budget negotiations coming to a close, the clock is running out. Let’s recap!
Children’s Mental Health:
It’s clear that addressing mental health services for children is of the utmost importance this year. Just this weekend, the New York Times had a must-read article on the rise of depression, self-harm, and suicide in American teens. And a Hearst CT Media editorial over the weekend opined that, given the state's recently projected single-year surplus of $3.95B, there are few more worthy causes than spending on children's mental health. Key to these considerations are three large, wide-ranging bills that are top priorities for the General Assembly:
Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools, advanced through the Education and Appropriations Committees, and currently on the Senate Calendar: Among numerous undertakings, SB 1 would task the State Department of Education (SDE) with administering a grant program for districts to hire additional social workers and school psychologists. It would also take considerable steps to address early childcare needs, including: requiring the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) to administer a needs assessment for spaces in school readiness programs; increasing the per child cost cap used to calculate some school readiness program grants; amending the OEC's early childhood educator compensation schedule; and establishing a grant program to enhance salaries in early childhood programs.
Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), An Act Expanding Preschool and Mental and Behavioral Services for Children, advanced through the Joint Committee on Children, voted out of the Senate on Friday, and currently on the House Calendar: Another extensive effort, SB 2 would do things like expand access to mobile crisis centers; allow municipalities to abate property taxes for child care centers; and set up a fund through which families could apply for support to address social factors that impact mental health (think: housing instability, poverty, discrimination, and unemployment).
House Bill 5001 (HB 5001), An Act Concerning Children's Mental Health, advanced through the Public Health and Appropriations Committees and currently awaiting action by the House: Also expansive, HB 5001 contemplates efforts like requiring the SDE to survey local boards of education on their ratios of student-to-mental health specialists and establishing a fund to hire more. Another fund in the bill would provide for school-based delivery of student mental health services.
Taken together, all three bills could cost the state hundreds of millions. But according to the CT Mirror, House Speaker Matthew Ritter estimates that negotiations will lead to a total cost of $100-$125M.
The leaders on the General Assembly's Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee have taken a strong stand this year on behalf of Connecticut’s college students. They advanced SB 17, An Act Prohibiting an Institution of Higher Education from Withholding Transcripts—which would end an unfair and punitive approach to collecting student debts. It passed out of the Senate last week and has moved on to the House Calendar. The Committee also advanced a bill that looks at discriminatory “legacy” admissions practices in institutions of higher education. HB 5034, An Act Prohibiting an Institution of Higher Education from Considering Legacy Preferences in the Admissions Process—awaits action by the House.
In 2017, members of the legislature overhauled the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, moving towards a more equitable system of funding all public school students. Building off of that effort is House Bill 5283 (HB 5283), An Act Concerning the Education Cost Sharing Grant Formula and the Funding of Other Education Programs. This legislation could accelerate the current phase-in schedule of the existing ECS formula by two years and fully fund all districts in 2025. It would also expand the formula’s weighted funding to students in public schools of choice. A further directive in the bill would create a task force to study education funding and accountability for local and regional boards of education and schools of choice. The bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee on Friday and now awaits action by the House. According to the Fiscal Note, its costs to the Department of Education are estimated to be $237.4M in FY 25. Yesterday afternoon, community leaders from across the state gathered at the State Capitol, alongside members of the legislature, to urge passage. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said at the briefing, "Since the resources are there, and God knows the need is there, let's accelerate that formula going into effect. Let's not wait. Let's make sure it gets there when our kids need it, when those federal [relief] resources go away."
Public School Choice:
As mentioned above, HB 5283 would do a lot to make school funding more equitable for students enrolled in schools of choice. But another bill currently before the legislature—Senate Bill 229 (SB 229), An Act Concerning the Charter School Approval Process—would also considerably improve the process through which new charter schools are established. Currently, there’s far too much red tape involved when a community seeks authorization for a new public charter. (Click here for a one-pager explaining this process and how to fix it.) This bill would establish a non-lapsing account in the General Fund that will allow the SDE to fund charters approved by the State Board of Education (BOE). The substitute language voted out of the Education Committee also simplifies the certification process, removing a cumbersome “initial certificate” that gets awarded by the BOE. This would hopefully permit the BOE to have direct approval following their public vetting, and it’s an important change ahead of a re-opened RFP process for new charter schools by the SDE. SB 229 was added to the Senate Calendar this week—one to watch!
Teacher Quality and Preparation:
Several bills this year aim to address educator certification, diversity, and professional development. But they all call for studies, oftentimes duplicative of past efforts, rather than for comprehensive solutions. Senate Bill 273 (SB 273)—on the Senate Calendar—would require the SDE to review the existing teacher certification laws and remove obsolete requirements. Senate Bill 274 (SB 274)—also on the Senate Calendar—targets minority teacher recruitment through a study of past efforts. House Bill 5323 (HB 5323)—on the House Calendar—calls for a working group to consolidate professional development and in-service training requirements for educators; the SDE testified before the legislature that a 2017 task force has already put forth recommendations on this very issue.