Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Education Committee Has Spoken - May 2019

Pullman & Comley - School Law

Pullman & Comley - School Law

As you are aware from our prior posts, the General Assembly’s Education Committee has been quite busy during the 2019 legislative session.  Racing ahead of its deadline, the Committee has approved a final set of bills at its March 29, 2019 meeting (along with follow up meetings on April 8 and 15, 2019).  As you may guess, the topic of “regionalization” (or “shared services”) was the biggest attention grabber.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee at this meeting (and which now await action by the full General Assembly).

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: As amended, Senate Bill No. 1023 (“An Act Concerning The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education”) would eliminate the remaining exceptions to the mandate to provide alternative educational opportunities to expelled students (and would even eliminate the ability to make such opportunities contingent upon students meeting certain conditions). As such, any pupil who is expelled shall be offered an alternative educational opportunity, which may be 1) “alternative education”, with an individualized learning plan, if the school district provides such alternative education, or 2) in accordance with standards previously developed by the State Board of Education. In addition, such an opportunity may include placement in an adult education program if the student is at least 18 years of age; any student participating in such an adult education program during a period of expulsion will not be required to “withdraw” from school. In addition, parents and guardians will still have the ability to decline the provision of an alternative educational opportunity for their child.   PLEASE NOTE: a prior provision that would have replaced the State standards with local school district policies was removed from the version of the bill that the Committee approved.

“SHARED SERVICES” AND “REGIONALIZATION”: As amended, Senate Bill No. 874 (“An Act Concerning Education Initiatives And Services In Connecticut”) would create a “Commission on Shared School Services” for the purpose of developing recommendations for the sharing of school services and additional collaborations within and among school districts. The bill specifies the composition of the Commission’s membership, and the State Department of Education would provide administrative support. The Commission may establish subcommittees and working groups of the members, and hold public hearings. Over the next year, the Commission would develop numerous reports concerning existing school districts (including local and regional boards of education, charter schools, incorporated or endowed high schools or academies, the Technical Education and Career System and regional agricultural science and technology education centers). These reports would address the following subjects:

  • the sizes of existing school districts (including enrollment and employees)
  • the types and administrative structures of such districts
  • the number of schools, including building size/capacity, enrollment and grade ranges
  • existing shared services between school districts and employment of superintendents
  • academic and support services provided by school districts

At various points during 2020, the Commission would develop reports reviewing and offering preliminary recommendations concerning the following subjects:

  • additional collaboration school districts and with municipalities
  • the current services provided by regional educational service centers [“RESCs”] and the role of RESCs in shared service efforts
  • existing labor contracts and how future labor contracts should be negotiated as additional education services are shared (and additional collaboration occurs)
  • the establishment of shared school transportation contracts, including time spent by students on school, hours of such transportation services, tiers of schools and any other related issues
  • the development of interscholastic athletic schedules and related issues, including transportation services to interscholastic athletic events and school hours
  • the potential impact and changes to after-school programs and arrangements following the sharing of services, on such issues as transportation and school hours
  • the current school choice program structures and unified enrollment systems concerning a regional or state-basis, and the integration of school choice programs in a system of shared services and additional school collaborations
  • the impact that additional collaborations may have on the provision of special education services and early childhood care and education programs,
  • school building usage
  • the use of incentives, grants or tax changes to accomplish the recommendations.

By December 1, 2020, the Commission would develop a comprehensive report concerning its preliminary recommendations, including financial projections on savings and costs resulting from additional school collaborations. By December 15, 2020, the Commission would hold a public hearing on this comprehensive report. The Commission may continue to develop additional recommendations following the submission of any report. All Commission reports and plans would have to be submitted to the Governor, State Board of Education and the General Assembly. The Commissioner of Education would then make all such reports and plans available to the public on the Department of Education’s web site.

By March 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education would solicit proposals for cooperative and collaborative arrangements and incentives for the establishment of such arrangements. The Commissioner shall submit a report on the results of such requests to the Commission on Shared School Services.

In the meantime, by September 15, 2019, each municipality and the local or regional board of education for such municipality would be required to submit a report (with a detailed cost-benefit analysis) to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and the Commissioners of Education and Administrative Services on which services have been shared or consolidated 1) between the municipality and its board of education, and 2) with other municipalities or boards of education. By January 1, 2020, each such municipality and board of education would (in consultation with the Commission on Shared School Services and the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) submit a report to the same state entities on which services would be shared or consolidated 1) between the municipality and its board of education, and 2) with other municipalities or boards of education. Such reports would include a detailed cost-benefit analysis of such consolidations, a schedule for implementation to be completed by July 1, 2022, and an explanation of when services and consolidations are not being implemented.

The bill also contains some-what related special education provisions. The bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study and make recommendations concerning the 1) development of training and reporting requirements for pediatricians and child care providers to better identify a child’s need for special education services, 2) incorporation of training on trauma, behavior and social-emotional learning into teacher preparation programs and professional development for certified teachers, and 3) improvement of efforts to meet the needs of students with special needs and receiving special education services. As part of this study, the Department of Education will collaborate with local and regional boards of education and RESCs to improve efforts to meet the needs of students receiving special education and related services. The Department will evaluate existing models and services and cooperative models and funding mechanisms for the provision of special education services, including special education services provided by a board of education individually or cooperatively or by a RESC. Following such evaluation, the Department of Education will make any recommendations for 1) improving the provision of special education services, 2) enhancing cooperation among boards of education and RESCs, 3) creating cost efficiencies for such services, 4) establishing “Centers for Excellence”, which may include arrangements between and among boards of education and RESCs, 5) expanding the regional model for the provision of special education services related to transportation, training and therapeutic services developed, and 6) establishing a process by which the Department reviews and approves programs for the provision of special education services and the Department of Administrative Services reviews and approves the construction of schools and spaces for the provision of cooperative and regional special education services to meet the needs of any programs approved by the Department of Education. In addition to reporting back to the legislature by December 15, 2019, the Department of Education would also make its study and any recommendations available on its Internet web site.

There are also non-consolidation-related provisions in the proposed bill. This bill would amend the expulsion statutes by providing that an expulsion for on school grounds activity due to a violation of school policy may only take place if there also is a serious disruption of the educational process. The bill would add the Commissioner of Education or “designee” to the board of directors for RESCs. The proposed bill has several provisions addressing “incorporated or endowed high schools and academies.” The bill would: 1) make all provisions of the statutes concerning education applicable to such schools, 2) require such schools to be operated by governing boards, which must include representation from each board of education that sends more than 50 students to such a school, 3) require the governing board of such schools to post on their websites the schedule, agenda and minutes of each meeting (including any subcommittee meetings), and 4) require such governing boards to submit annually to the Commissioner of Education a certified audit statement of all revenues from public and private sources and expenditures and a complete copy of such governing board’s most recently completed IRS Form 990, with such materials then to be posted on the State Department of Education’s website. In addition, prior to the adoption of an annual budget by such a school’s governing board, the sections of such budget that receive public funds shall be 1) reviewed by the boards of education that send students to such school, and 2) subject to a public hearing.

Among other things, the bill would also require in-service training for professional staff on social emotional learning, trauma informed instruction and behavior management strategies; the bill would also require school boards to use evidence-based practices to promote social-emotional learning, trauma-informed instruction, behavior management and de-escalation techniques for its certified staff members. The bill would require 1) the State Department of Education to make its model curriculum and frameworks available on its website, and 2) each local and regional board of education make its grade level curriculum available on its website.

Finally, the bill makes several changes to the school construction statutes, including provisions requiring documentation from grant applicants with respect to efforts to collaborate with other school districts to reduce under-enrollment, and requiring that school building committees include at least one member who has experience in the construction industry.

BUDGET: The title of House Bill No. 7150 (“An Act Implementing The Governor’s Budget Recommendations Concerning Education”) would, among other things, renew numerous education grants provided by statute (e.g., Sheff magnet schools, no nexus and excess cost special education grants, vo-ag grants), although it would accelerate the ECS rate adjustment for certain towns. This bill would delay by two years the “independence” of the Technical Education and Career System from the State Department of Education. The bill also would require the Office of Early Childhood to conduct a study on enrollment and availability of slots in preschool programs in our state. PLEASE NOTE: a provision that would have served to shift some of the costs of the teacher retirement system onto local and regional school districts was removed from the final bill that was approved by the Committee, but it is possible that this provision may re-emerge from another committee or as a part of the overall state budget discussions.

House Bill No. 7350 (“An Act Concerning Regional Cooperation And The Sharing Of Services Among Regional Educational Service Centers And Member Boards Of Education”) would require RESCs to annually conduct a survey of education services and programs being provided by school districts in the region serviced by the RESC for the purpose of identifying the need for regional cooperation in the provision or sharing of education services and programs among member boards of education, and enhancing or adding new education services and programs provided by the RESC. This bill would also require the State Department of Education to develop a report for the General Assembly on best practices being implemented by RESCs for regional cooperation and the sharing of education services. The Department shall develop such report based on the inventories and reports submitted by the RESCs. The bill would then require RESCs to distribute to member boards of education an inventory of goods and services that the RESC provides, including the regional model for the provision of special education services. In developing the inventory, each RESC is to take into consideration the results of the afore-mentioned survey of its members, and any best practices of other RESCs described in the aforementioned State report. A RESC will also annually submit its inventory and a report on any best practices for regional cooperation or the sharing of education services being implemented by the RESC to the Department of Education.

House Bill No. 7149 (“An Act Bolstering Minority Teacher Recruitment”) would essentially mirror another bill that was passed by the Committee (Senate Bill No. 1022 (“An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment And Retention”).

House Bill No. 7168 (“An Act Concerning Transitional Services For Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder”) would amend the state special education laws so as to explicitly provide that commencing not later than the date on which the first individual education program [“IEP”] takes effect for a child who is at least 14 years of age and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, such IEP shall include 1) “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills”, and 2) “the transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist a child in reaching those goals”. The bill states that nothing in it shall be construed as requiring the Department of Rehabilitation Services to lower the age of transitional services for a child with disabilities from 16 to 14 years of age.

House Bill No. 6997 (“An Act Requiring The Provision Of Information Concerning Domestic Violence Services And Resources To Students, Parents And Guardians”) would require the State Department of Education to publish information concerning services and resources available to victims of domestic violence on its website and disseminate it to local and regional school districts. In turn, these school districts would be required to provide such information to 1) any students, parent or guardian who expresses safety concerns at home due to domestic violence and 2) any parent or guardian of a student who authorizes the transfer of such student’s education records to another school.

House Bill No. 7149 (“An Act Establishing A Pilot Program For The Expansion Of Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Programs”) would establish a pilot program for the expansion of the advanced manufacturing certificate programs offered by the regional community-technical colleges to public high schools, which shall function as satellite locations of the advanced manufacturing centers located at such colleges. Up to eight public high schools could participate in the pilot program, with the criteria to be developed by the Board of Regents for Higher Education for selecting the schools to include, among other things, a focus on economically distressed communities and areas where there is a need for a workforce trained in advanced manufacturing. Any local or regional board of education, separately or jointly may apply to participate in the pilot program; each board of education selected to participate in the program shall then enter into a memorandum of understanding for the operation of the advanced manufacturing center satellite location with the regional community technical college that serves the area. Beginning in the fall of 2020, each advanced manufacturing center satellite location shall enroll 1) public high school students in grade eleven or twelve from the school districts that have entered into the memorandum of understanding to simultaneously earn high school credits from the public high school and college credits and an advanced manufacturing certificate from the regional community-technical college that operates the location, and 2) adults for classes during the evening and weekend hours to earn an advanced manufacturing certificate from the regional community-technical college. The Board of Regents for Higher Education shall report annually to the General Assembly on operation and effectiveness of the pilot program and its recommendations to expand the pilot program.***

Bills affecting the schools may also emerge from other committees (such as the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the Planning and Development Committee, and the Committee on Children).  The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are enacted into law before the end of the session.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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