Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Education Committee Begins to Speak

At its March 6, 2019 and March 15, 2019 meetings, the General Assembly’s Education Committee began the process of approving bills.  The following is a brief discussion and summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee.

UNEXPENDED SCHOOL BUDGET FUNDS: House Bill No. 7112 (“An Act Increasing The Amount A Town May Deposit Into A Nonlapsing Account For Unexpended Education Funds”) would increase the amount of unexpended education funds that a town could deposit into a nonlapsing account at the end of each fiscal year to 2% of the total budgeted appropriation for education (from the current 1%). This bill would also require that any expenditure of funds from this account be authorized by the local board of education of the town and be for educational purposes only.

GRADUATION DATES AND SCHOOL CALENDARS: House Bill No. 7258 (“An Act Concerning The Establishment Of A Firm Graduation Date And The Date For The First Day Of School Sessions”) would allow boards of education to establish a firm graduation date for students in Grade Twelve for that school year which at the time of such establishment provides for at least 180 days of school. This bill would also expressly permit school districts to begin school after Labor Day.

TESTING OF LEAD: Senate Bill No. 814 (“An Act Requiring Boards Of Education To Conduct Testing Of Water Supplies In Public Schools For The Presence Of Lead”) would require school districts to conduct a test of the water supply for any school building or facility constructed before July 1, 1986 for the presence of lead and report the results to the State Departments of Education and Public Health.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND “PLAY”: House Bill No. 7250 (“An Act Concerning The Improvement Of Child Development Through Play”) would revise the current physical exercise requirement for elementary schools students by instead mandating that students in Grades Kindergarten to Five receive daily time devoted either to physical exercise or “undirected play” of not less than 50 minutes in total, divided among two blocks of time dedicated for such purpose.

SCHOOL COUNSELORS: Senate Bill No. 956 (“An Act Concerning A Comprehensive School Counselor Program) would require the State Board of Education, in collaboration with the Connecticut School Counselor Association, to adopt guidelines for a comprehensive school counseling program. The guidelines would “ensure that all students have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that provides academic, social-emotional and post-secondary and career readiness programming by a certified school counselor with adequate training.”

CHOICE PROGRAMS AND EQUITY: House Bill No. 7109 (“An Act Concerning Interdistrict Magnet School Program Funding”) would increase the per pupil funding for interdistrict magnet school programs by 5%. Senate Bill No. 1017 (“An Act Concerning The Open Choice Program”) would require that each school district that accepts more than 40 students under the “Open Choice” program provide an education advocate responsible for 1) assisting students participating in the program to make the transition to a new school, 2) acting as a liaison between the parents of such students and the new school district, and 3) providing such students with academic and other social support. Senate Bill No. 1020 (“An Act Concerning School Equity”) would mandate the inclusion of instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice” in the certification, professional development and in-service training provided to teachers.

HOMELESS STUDENTS: House Bill No. 7313 (“An Act Concerning Homeless Students’ Access To Education”) would codify the protections that homeless students receive under the federal McKinney Vento and state student residency statutes. The bill would provide that with respect to a school district denying school accommodations due to a claim that the student is homeless, the party claiming ineligibility based on residency shall have the burden of proving that the party denied schooling is not a homeless child by a preponderance of the evidence. The bill would expressly provide that whenever a homeless child’s residency appeal is denied by a local or regional board of education, the child shall continue in attendance or be immediately enrolled in the school selected by the child in the school district. In those circumstances, the board of education shall 1) provide the homeless child (or his/her parent or guardian) with a) a written explanation of the reasons for the denial of accommodations that is in a manner and form understandable to the child or parent or guardian, and b) information regarding the right to appeal the decision of the denial, and 2) refer the child (or his/her parent or guardian) to the school district’s McKinney Vento/homeless student liaison.

PILOT PROGRAMS: House Bill No. 7312 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of A Community-Based Transition School Pilot Program”) would establish a community-based transition school pilot program to be administered by the State Department of Education. The Department would provide a grant-in-aid to “a community-based education transition school that provides intensive special education supports to low-income at-risk students who have a history of behavioral issues and learning problems by using a community-based approach with an emphasis on teaching employment and independent living skills while building and strengthening each student’s interpersonal social skills”. This transition school would use such grant-in aid to 1) serve students who are currently enrolled at the school, 2) expand enrollment by accepting new students referred to the school from other schools located in or around Hartford, and 3) assist students who have graduated from the school and transitioned to employment and independent living in the community, with the school following up with such students in order to evaluate the extent to which they have made successful transitions into adulthood and the viability of the community-based transition school model. Senate Bill No. 1021 (“An Act Establishing a Comprehensive Schools Pilot Program”) would establish a comprehensive community schools pilot program. A “community school” is defined as a public school “that participates in a coordinated, community-based effort with community partners to provide comprehensive educational, developmental, family, health and wrap-around services to students, families and community members”. Senate Bill No. 852 (“An Act Concerning The Establishment Of A Personal Financial Management Pilot Program”) would establish a pilot program, to be administered by the Capitol Region Education Council, for the teaching of personal financial management for its member school districts.

CURRICULUM: The Committee has passed several curriculum related bills. House Bill No. 7111 (“An Act Concerning Revisions To The Comprehensive School Health Education Curriculum And The Inclusion Of The Dangers Of Vaping In The Public School Curriculum”) would require the State Department of Education to 1) include the role of consent in sexual relationships in the comprehensive school health education component of its Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework, and 2) include instruction on the dangers of vaping in the health component of the mandated school curriculum. Senate Bill No. 853 (“An Act Concerning The Availability Of The Real Estate Licensing Curriculum For Use In Public Schools”) would require the State Board of Education to make available curriculum materials to school districts relating to “Real Estate Principles and Practices.”

EARLY CHILDHOOD: The Committee approved a bevy of early childhood related bills.   Senate Bill No. 930 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of A Pilot Program For An Early Childhood Business Incubator Model”) would establish a pilot program that would authorize the Commissioner of Early Childhood to issue a license to a person or group of persons to maintain a family child care home or group child care home in partnership with and in a space provided by an association, organization, corporation, institution or agency in the towns of New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport or Stamford. Senate Bill No. 931 (“An Act Concerning Payments To Child Care Providers”) would 1) require Care4Kids program payments to be at least equal to the 75th percentile of the market cost of child care, 2) require that any increase in funding to child care centers and school readiness program providers be used for increasing educator salaries, and 3) increase school readiness grant rates.   Senate Bill No. 933 (“An Act Expanding Eligibility For Certain Families In The Care4kids Program”) would expand the eligibility for the Care4Kids program to include families with a gross income of up to 75% (from the current 50%) of the state-wide median income and require notice be provided of this expanded eligibility. Senate Bill No. 934 (“An Act Expanding Eligibility In The Care4kids Program To Parents Enrolled In Other Types Of School) would expand the eligibility for the Care4Kids program to include parents enrolled in institutions of higher education, adult education programs, English as a second language programs and private occupational schools (as opposed to just parent in high school) and require notice be provided of this expanded eligibility. Senate Bill No. 932 (“An Act Concerning The Staff Qualifications Requirement For Early Childhood Educators”) would again delay and revise the imposition of certain qualifications for early childhood educators. Senate Bill No. 935 (“An Act Requiring The Office Of Early Childhood To Develop An Early Childhood Educator Compensation Schedule”) would require the Office of Early Childhood to develop an early childhood educator compensation schedule and for early childhood program providers to implement this schedule. Senate Bill No. 937 (“An Act Concerning A Student Loan Forgiveness Program For Early Childhood Educators”) would establish a student loan forgiveness (or reimbursement) program for early childhood educators. Finally, as the title would suggest, Senate Bill No. 936 (“An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Office Of Early Childhood”) is an omnibus bill that would implement various recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood; we will provide greater detail as events unfold.

TASK FORCES AND STUDIES: The Committee approved bills that continue to display legislative affinity for task forces and further study of issues. House Bill No. 7312 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Issues Relating To Parental Involvement With Students”) would establish a task force to study issues relating to parental involvement with students. The task force will study and make recommendations concerning 1) methods for improving parental involvement with students, including best practices used in other states, 2) the feasibility of establishing parent academies throughout the state to assist parents and students in middle school and high school with college planning and career training, and 3) methods for fostering communication and interaction between parents, school personnel and the surrounding communities. Senate Bill No. 813 (“An Act Concerning A Study Of Issues Relating To Early College And Dual Enrollment Programs”) would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study of issues relating to student enrollment in, and graduation from, middle college programs, early college high school and Connecticut Early College Opportunity programs, and dual enrollment programs.

MISCELLANEOUS: As its title would suggest, Senate Bill No. 812 (“An Act Concerning The Legislative Commissioner’s Recommendations For Technical Revisions to the Education and Early Childhood Statutes”) would make technical changes to various education and early childhood related statutes. Senate Bill No. 856 (“An Act An Act Requiring The State Board Of Education To Consider Manufacturers’ Workforce Needs When Evaluating Public School Educational Programs”) would require the State Board of Education to 1) consider manufacturers’ workforce needs when evaluating public school educational programs, 2) educate elementary school students about careers in manufacturing, 3) increase representation of manufacturers on certain of the Board’s committees and 4) evaluate the effectiveness of the board’s program to introduce students to careers in manufacturing.

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The deadline for the Education Committee to approve additional bills is April 1, 2019. Bills affecting the schools may also emerge from other committees (such as the Labor and Public Employees Committee and the Committee on Children).  Such a bill of interest could be House Bill No. 7224 (“An Act Concerning Paraeducator Pay Equity”). The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of the above bills are enacted.