Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Education Committee Has Spoken (Part Two)

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In addition to bills described in our last post, the General Assembly’s Education Committee approved and advanced out of committee the following funding-related and “omnibus” bills, including bills reaffirming the Committee’s affinity for “task forces” and “studies.”  Here is a summary of these bills (which now await action by the full General Assembly):  

CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

H.B. No. 6617 (“An Act Concerning Authorization Of State Grant Commitments For School Building Projects And Revisions To The School Building Projects Statutes”) would authorize state grant commitments for certain public school building projects in Connecticut.   The bill would also require that all plans for a school building project submitted on and after July 1, 2022 provide for the installation of water bottle filling stations.  Finally, this bill would make local and regional boards of education responsible for establishing (or reestablishing) school building committees for school building projects.

FUNDING AND $$$

H.B. No. 6618 (“An Act Concerning Certain Funding Issues Affecting Boards Of Education”), would among other things, permit boards of education to carry forward any unexpended federal funds received for the purpose of covering costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic into the next fiscal year, and increase the amount of unexpended budgetary monies that a regional board of education could deposit into a non-lapsing reserve fund for capital and non-recurring expenditures from 1% to 2% of the regional district’s total budgeted appropriation for education.  The bill would revise the minimum budget requirement (“MBR”) so as to apply it to all future years (as opposed to the typical two-year extensions). The bill also would provide that federal Coronavirus/stimulus funds as well as school security infrastructure grants may be excluded from a district’s MBR/budgeted appropriation calculation in the fiscal year following receipt of funds. The bill would increase the per pupil charter school grant from $11,250 to $11,525, although this topic is covered by the budget bill (H.B. No. 6439). The bill would also require the State Department of Agriculture to administer the “CT Grown for CT Kids Grant Program” to assist school districts in developing farm-to-school programs.  Finally, the bill would create a pilot “Open Choice” program that would serve up to 50 students each in Danbury and Norwalk so that they may attend specified nearby school districts until they graduate from high school.

H.B. No. 6439 (“An Act Concerning the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30th, 2023, and Making Appropriations Therefor”) sets forth the proposed state budget approved by the Appropriations Committee.  According to the summary released by the Committee, the following items contained in the proposed budget are of interest to schools:   

-Providing Funding for the above-described pilot “Open Choice” program for Danbury and Norwalk students. 
-Increasing the state per pupil grant for Vocational Agriculture schools by $1,000.
-Equalizing the state charter school per pupil grant and the ECS foundation level, resulting in an increase of the per pupil charter school grant from $11,250 to $11,525.
-In addition, charter school funding shall reflect a) the closure of the Trailblazers Academy and the Stamford Academy, and b) increased students/seats for the Stamford Charter School for Excellence, the Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven, and the Elm City Montessori (which is currently the only “local” charter school in Connecticut).
-Magnet school grant funding will remain constant.
-Delaying the transfer of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System to a separate state agency until July 1, 2023 and thus keeping it as part of the State Department of Education until then.
-Maintaining the currently scheduled Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula phase-in that exists under current law for all towns.
-Notwithstanding the decision to keep the current overall funding formula, the bill would provide some enhancements over the current ECS formula ($4.7 million in 2021-2022 and $9.4 million in 2022-2023) for the following:
• Increasing the English Language Learner (ELL) weight from 15% to 25% to provide additional funding for towns with high concentrations of ELL students;
• Lowering the low-income concentration threshold at which towns receive an added weight from 75% to 60% of students receiving Free or Reduced Price Lunch, which makes more towns eligible for this weighting (and the resulting additional resources); and
• Increasing the weight for towns receiving the low-income concentration weight, from 5% to 15%.

PLEASE NOTE: Some of same provisions from above (including the streamlining and enhancements to the ECS, Vo-ag funding, and state charter school funding), along with magnet school funding changes were originally contained in S.B. No. 948 (“An Act Addressing Education Funding And Racial Equity In Connecticut”), which was approved by the Education Committee.  As amended by the Appropriations Committee, this bill now would simply require the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis to analyze the impact of these changes and submit a report with recommendation to the Education and Appropriations Committees by February 1, 2022.        

MISCELLANEOUS/OMNIBUS BILLS

S.B. No. 945 (“An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Department Of Education”) is an omnibus bill that would, among other things:

  1. Require that planning and placement teams (“PPTs”) for all special education students provide a statement of transition services in individualized education programs (“IEPs”) not later than the first IEP that will be in effect when the student turns 14-years of age (or younger if the PPT determines it to be appropriate); 
  2. Provide alternative methods for obtaining the bilingual education certificate with respect to how a candidate may fulfill the certificates’ written competency requirements for both English and the other language, and bifurcate the elementary level bilingual certificate into “elementary” for Grades K-Nine and “middle grades” for Grades Four through Nine;
  3. Require the Commissioner of Education to approve guidelines for secondary bilingual STEM and humanities teaching certificate endorsements, while setting forth the course requirements for such teachers;
  4. Eliminate the grade point average requirement for the resident teacher certificate;
  5. Require charter schools and cooperative arrangements be treated as “nongovernmental school operators” for purposes of criminal history records checks for school personnel, thus requiring them to also be conducted in accordance with the federal National Child Protection Act of 1992 and the federal Volunteers for Children Act of 1998, in addition to state law;
  6. Eliminate the requirement that charter school governing council and management organization members undergo criminal history record checks and provide that the criminal history record checks of certain contractors be conducted in accordance with the state law governing such checks (CGS §29-17a);
  7. Permit the State Department of Education (through the Attorney General) to bring a civil action (including for treble damages) in either state or federal court against any organization that has misused state funds or resources;
  8. Require that before a student receiving special education services enrolls in a Technical Education and Career System (“CTECS”) school, a PPT meeting must be convened by the residing school district to address  such student’s transition to the CTECS school and to ensure that such student’s IEP reflects the current supports and services that such student requires in order to access a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. A representative from such CTECS school shall be invited to the meeting.  This bill removes prior language that permitted a referral back to the residing school district if the PPT determined that a student required special education services which would preclude such student’s participation in the program offered by the CTECS school.

H.B. No. 6621 (“An Act Concerning Assorted Revisions And Additions To The Education Statutes”) would provide that the ability of citizens to petition for a public hearing of a local board of education be limited to any question related to the provision of education by that board.  This bill would also revise the vision screening conducted in the public schools to permit the use of an automated vision screening device that is not equivalent to a Snellen chart.  Finally, the bill establishes a new task force to study the provision of special education services (including the role of RESCs, private providers of special education and inter-district cooperative arrangements) and special education funding. The task force would submit a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2022.  And in speaking of, …

YES, MORE TASK FORCES AND STUDIES

H.B. No. 6535 (“An Act Concerning Issues Relating To School Security”) would establish a task force to study the employment and role of school resource officers in public schools and to develop recommendations regarding whether school resource officers should continue to be employed or assigned in public schools, and, if so, what their duties and role should be within the schools and community in which they are assigned. The task force would submit a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2022. 

S.B. No. 1032 (“An Act Concerning Various Revisions To The Education Statutes”) would require the Connecticut Department of Education to conduct a study concerning “various revisions to the education statutes” and to then submit a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee

S.B. No. 1035 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Issues Relating To The Implementation Of And Costs Associated With EdTPA”) would establish a task force to study issues relating to the implementation of the preservice performance assessment (“edTPA”) as part of teacher preparation programs,  and to then submit a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2022. 

***

Bills affecting Connecticut schools may also emerge from other committees.  The 2021 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 9, 2021, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are eventually enacted.

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