Connecticut legislators yesterday passed several key pieces of legislation that were among CEA’s top priorities: prohibiting dual teaching, increasing mental health supports in schools, and more—along with a $24 billion annual state budget that makes new investments in child care, mental health, and social services. The budget provides additional funding for schools, including money for indoor air quality, as well as important benefits for teachers and relief for hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
“These are huge victories at a time when the combined challenges of dual instruction, poor indoor air quality, and the mental health crisis facing our students threaten the integrity of our public education system,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “We fought hard for these measures, and they would not have passed if legislators hadn’t heard from us directly about why they matter. Our leaders and staff testified, our members called, emailed, and visited their senators and representatives throughout the session to let them know how important these bills were, and these victories demonstrate that teacher voice makes a huge difference. When we speak up for what our students and colleagues need, when we are persistent, and when we stand together, we prevail.”
The bills that passed both chambers unanimously or with overwhelming majorities and bipartisan support were SB 1, SB 2, and HB 5001. In addition to prohibiting dual teaching, these proposals require districts to conduct student trauma needs assessments, which will help identify needed resources; allow greater teacher input into behavior interventions in their classrooms; supply grants for hiring and retaining school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors; mandate uninterrupted, duty-free lunch periods of 30 minutes or more; expand school-based health centers, preschool, and mental health and behavioral services; provide minority teacher recruitment scholarships; and establish a task force aimed at streamlining and eliminating unnecessary obstacles to certification as well as a task to explore teacher recruitment and retention efforts, such as CEA’s proposed pandemic pension credit.
The new state budget (HB 5506) also addresses several teacher priorities.
“This budget has gained media attention for the historic tax cuts it offers, but that’s not the whole story or even the main story.,” says Dias. “This is a package that begins addressing air quality in our schools, that makes retired teachers’ health insurance more affordable, that boosts education cost sharing, that makes community college accessible to more of our graduates, that helps struggling families afford basic necessities, and that offers a child tax credit and earned income credit to greater numbers of Connecticut residents. This budget helps many of our students and their families as well as our members and the schools where they teach. And we all know a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Among other provisions, the budget package includes
- $28 million for mental health supports in schools, including the hiring of school counselors, social workers, and psychologists
- $75 million in grants to improve HVAC systems and indoor air quality in schools
- A requirement that boards of education conduct in-depth assessments of all school buildings’ HVAC systems by 2024 and every five years thereafter, that inspection reports address temperature and humidity standards, include corrective actions and protocols for ensuring indoor air quality complaints are addressed, and be made public at board of education meetings, and that existing air quality inspections currently conducted every five years take place every three years
- The creation of a working group that will make recommendations about school air quality to the legislature
- An increase in the TRS monthly health insurance subsidy to boards of education for retirees and their spouses meeting certain conditions
- A three-tiered reimbursement method, based on property wealth per capita, for determining each town’s special education excess cost grant when the appropriation does not fully fund the grant; the state’s share of local special education costs will increase, and more funds will be distributed to lower-wealth districts
- An expansion of eligibility requirements for the debt-free community college program to include part-time Connecticut community-technical college students
- Expedited phase-in of full education cost sharing (ECS) funding
- A doubling of the state grant for bilingual programs to $3.8 million
Upon the governor’s signature, these bills go into law and the budget takes effect July 1.