Report by Paula Antolini
March 30, 2017 12:16PM EDT
Senator Boucher: Education Committee Moves to Save Our Schools
We are entering the second half of the 2017 legislative session where bills that have passed through committee will make their way to the floor of the state House and Senate. As Co-Chair of the Education Committee, I’d like to list some of the bills that came out of committee and what they could mean for Connecticut residents.
I have always believed that Connecticut has some of the brightest, most remarkable students in the country, but I’ve had parents tell me that the course offerings in their children’s schools isn’t challenging enough. A bill I sponsored, SB 911, An Act Concerning Services For Gifted And Talented Students, was voted out of committee and has been referred to non-partisan offices for analysis. Under the bill, the state Department of Education would be required to develop guidelines on the best practices for providing services to academically advanced students in our state. The department also would have to provide information and assistance to schools and the public about gifted and talented programs for students. I believe this can help our academically advanced students reach their full potential.
I am happy to say that we are closer to helping our communities bypass unfunded mandates that add to administrative costs and usurp the authority of our local boards of education. HB 7276, An Act Concerning Education Mandate Relief, would allow districts to opt out of implementing a regional calendar, would give local communities more authority over alternative education programs for expelled students, and would allow communities to decide who is trained is the use of physical restraint.
Another bill that deals with some unfunded mandates is SB 786, An Act Concerning Education Mandate Relief, Transparency And Regional Incentives. This would help local districts save money by allowing boards of education to enter into cooperative arrangements to provide administration and central office duties. It would address school staffing issues by doubling the length of temporary teaching certificates from 90 days to 180 days, and lets schools seek an additional 180 days if requested before the current certificate expires.
Further helping our communities take more control of spending decisions is SB 711, An Act Increasing The Amount A School District May Reduce Its Minimum Budget Requirement When It Experiences A Decline In Student Enrollment. This means that when our school population declines, our communities will no longer be forced to spend the same amount of money to educate fewer students. It simply is common sense.
SB 7202, An Act Making Revisions To The Student Data Privacy Act Of 2016, gives school districts more time to develop and implement data confidentiality and security policies and procedures.
We also moved two of the Governor’s education bills out of committee, but note before we made important changes to protect local communities. With HB 7034, An Act Transforming The School Construction Program, we removed provisions that would have changed the formula used to reimburse communities for school construction projects. Reimbursements will not be lowered.
A significant change to HB 7035, An Act Implementing The Governor’s Budget Recommendations Concerning Education, was the rejection of drastic changes to education funding. The Governor proposed harsh reductions in the amount of Education Cost Sharing Grants and special education reimbursements that would be paid to most small towns, including those in the 26th State Senatorial District. This could have resulted in teacher layoffs, larger classroom sizes, a reduction in programs, and possibly property tax increases. Thankfully, the committee rejected these cuts.
You may have heard that the Governor has threatened to veto legislation that does not make the school funding changes he wants, but even our Democrat colleagues in the House and Senate are against his education-funding proposal. This increases the likelihood that a truly bipartisan budget will pass the legislature this year. Together, Democrats and Republicans can muster the votes needed to overturn a veto.
Like I said, the 2017 session is only half way over, but I am excited to tell you about the progress we have made so far. I believe we have the momentum to continue to make these types of positive changes that will put our state on the path to reduced spending, reduced taxes, and a brighter future.
Feel free to reach out to me about these and any other bills before the General Assembly by email at Toni.Boucher@cga.ct.gov. You can also look for more updates on my website at www.SenatorBoucher.com and on social media.
Senator Boucher represents the 26th State Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.