Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Education Committee Has Spoken (Part Two: Funding-Related Bills)
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In our last post, I summarized part of the General Assembly’s Education Committee’s final flurry of approved bills advancing bills out of committee.  In addition to the bills that we have already summarized, here is a brief summary of bills relating to grants and funding matters approved by the Committee (and which now await action by the full General Assembly). 

GRANTS: H.B. No. 5283 (An Act Concerning the Education Cost Sharing Grant Formula and the Funding of Other Education Programs) would accelerate the existing schedule for “underfunded” towns to receive Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant increases from 2027-2028 to 2024-2025.  Effective 2024-2025, the existing magnet school and vo-ag center grant programs would be replaced with the following: 1) The “choice program” grant for school districts that operate a magnet school or vo-ag center, and 2) a separate grant for magnet schools operated by an entity that is not a board of education, such as a regional educational service center (“RESC”) or institution of higher education. The bill sets forth the calculations of those grants, with additional weight (and funding) based upon the number of students eligible for free or reduced priced meals or free milk and designated as an English language learner.  Effective 2024-2025, the bill would generally prohibit magnet schools and vo-ag centers from charging tuition to the towns that send students to these programs, with the new state grants supposedly providing at least the same amount of funds that a magnet school operator or vo-ag center received in 2023-2024 plus the amount received that year in tuition from sending districts.  The bill would provide additional increases in the per pupil charter school grants for the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 fiscal years (with charter schools then receiving in 2024-2025 the “foundation” multiplied by the school’s total charter needs students). The bill adds a cost of living increase, commencing with 2025-2026, for the foundation amount used in grants for non-board of education magnet schools and state charter schools.  Finally, the bill creates a task force to study 1) education funding that local and regional boards of education, charter schools, and magnet school operators are entitled to through ECS grants, charter school grants, and this bill’s new grants; 2) accountability; and 3) preparing students for success in college, careers, and life. The task force must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by July 1, 2023.

THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET: Meanwhile, H.B. No. 5038 (“An Act Implementing the Governor's Budget Recommendations Concerning Education”) sets forth the Governor’s recommended budget, including provisions regarding ECS grants and grants for priority school districts.  In addition to its budgetary provisions, the bill makes necessary revisions to the statutes in light of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System becoming an independent agency, and sets forth provisions with respect to the qualification and hiring (by the System’s executive director) of the System’s Superintendent.    

SPECIAL EDUCATION EXCESS COST GRANTS: S.B. No. 232 (“An Act Concerning the Excess Cost Grant for Special Education”) would replace the existing “within available appropriations” threshold for the excess cost grant for special education with a tiered threshold system based on the property wealth of a town.  Currently, the funding of special education costs for a student above four and half times the per pupil costs of such district is subject to available appropriations (and there is a proportionate reduction for all such grants if the need for such grants exceeds the available appropriations for that year).  The bill would group the towns based upon wealth, and the State will pay on a sliding scale when the grant need exceeds appropriations, with the “poorest” districts not experiencing any reduction and on the other end of the scale, the “richest” district receiving 80% of their grant.      

MAGNET SCHOOL FUNDING:  S.B. No. 227 (“An Act Concerning Magnet School Program Funding”) would increase the various inter-district magnet school per-pupil grants from the state by approximately 8%.

UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT #1: FUNDING: H.B. No. 5284 (“An Act Concerning the Funding of Unified School District #1”) would require the State Department of Education (“SDE”), in consultation with the Department of Correction, to conduct a study of how Unified School District #1 is funded and how its funding compares to other school districts and education programs, and then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education and Appropriations Committees by January 1, 2023.

CHARTER SCHOOL APPROVAL PROCESS:  S.B. No. 229 (“An Act Concerning the Process by Which a Charter is Granted and Funding is Provided for a New Charter School”), which has been referred and approved by the Appropriations Committee, would change the process of approval of charters schools so that the State Board of Education’s action in approving the charter school’s application serves as the granting of the charter (and ability to operate), as opposed to awaiting the subsequent appropriation of monies by the legislature of initial operating grants for the specific school.  Instead, the legislature would appropriate money into a separate charter school approval grant account, to be expended by the Commissioner of Education.  In addition, the bill provides that the State Board of Education may not approve more than two applications for a new state charter school in any one year.            

BILINGUAL EDUCATION: H.B. No. 5280 (“An Act Concerning the Provision of Bilingual Education in Connecticut”) would increase the per pupil grant amount for bilingual education; the per pupil amount would be determined by multiplying  $3,832,260 (instead of the current $1,916,130) by the ratio which the number of eligible children in a school district bears to the total number of such eligible children state-wide.  The bill also establishes a dual language seed grant program that would be administered by the SDE and would provide grants to school districts to establish new or expanding existing dual language programs.

EARLY CHILDHOOD: H.B. No. 5465 (An Act Increasing Early Childhood Educator Salaries and Expanding Child Care Opportunities for Families”), among other things, would empower the Office of Early Childhood (“OEC”) to administer the early childhood care and education salary enhancement grant program.  The OEC would annually pay to each early childhood care and education program a salary enhancement grant in the amount of such program's salary enhancement amount. Such programs shall distribute such grant funds to its employees in accordance with the policy developed by the OEC Commissioner.  The bill would require OEC to amend its proposed early childhood educator compensation schedule to include more employee categories and would require each early childhood care and education program employee to be paid an annual salary as prescribed in the OEC-developed compensation schedule beginning in 2022-2023, provided that if an employee's salary is greater than the amount prescribed in the compensation schedule, the employee shall be paid the greater amount.  The bill would increase (effective 2022-2023) the per child cost cap from $9,027 to $10,027 for each child enrolled in a school readiness program, which would then be used to calculate school readiness program grants.  

The bill would allow OEC to use appropriated but unexpended school readiness funds to provide scholarships for early childhood care and education program providers and their staff (while eliminating the school readiness programs’ authority to use unspent grant funds that exceed the per child school readiness cost to increase classroom teacher or caregiver salaries). The bill revises the “family child care” requirements by maintaining the usual six student enrollment limit, but allowing the provider to enroll up to nine students year round if the provider employs an OEC-approved assistant or substitute staff member to be present to assist the provider. PLEASE NOTE: Similar provisions to those detailed above are contained in other pending bills. 

SHEFF SETTLEMENT: Earlier, the Committee approved H.R. No. 4 and S.R. No. 4 (“Resolution Approving the Settlement Agreement in Sheff v. O'Neill”), which resulted in the appropriation of monies (ranging from $26.2 million to $31.5 million/year) for the 2022-2023 fiscal year (and running through at least 2031-2032) for costs associated with the January 27, 2022 settlement agreement in the Sheff desegregation litigation.

Stay tuned for more.

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