March 18, 2019

Bills address school discipline, faculty diversity, college costs

While proposals that would nudge small school districts toward regionalization might have attracted the most attention at the Legislative Office Building this year, a slew of lesser-known education bills could change the way kids learn, from preschool all the way through college.

In addition to three big initiatives that New Haven residents are advocating for — funding the real cost of teaching higher-needs students, revamp the social-studies program to include a history of race and racism and doubling the length of recess — here are other education bills to watch:

SB 932, SB 935, SB 937: These three bills would help recruit more faculty for state-funded preschool and prekindergarten programs, which currently require a college degree in early childhood education to be hired but often pay less than other certified teaching positions. SB 932 would adjust the requirements to allow more teachers with associates degrees; SB 935 would set a compensation schedule with minimum salaries; and SB 937 would forgive student-loan debt for teachers who make less than $50,000 working at child-care center.

HB 7110: This bill would require districts to create a plan for responding to "disruptive or injurious incidents" in the classroom. Gov. Dannell Malloy vetoed a similar bill last year, but the latest proposal has been updated with more specifics. New Haven Legal Assistance Association still opposes the bill, saying it places too much emphasis on removing kids from the classroom without addressing the underlying behavioral issue. Boards of education and superintendents also oppose it, while teachers unions and school counselors support it.

SB 814: This bill would require school boards to test for lead in water fountains in pre-1986 buildings. They could ask for reimbursement from the state's public health department. But Dianna Wentzell, the state's education commissioner, has come out in opposition to the bill, saying that what comes out of the tap should be a responsibility for municipal water systems, not school superintendents.

SB 851: This bill would prevent disaggregating student data by ethnicity — unless the federal government requires it or the state can figure out how to delineate every single subgroup. Asian-American groups fought to put this bill on the agenda to preempt any attempt to understand gaps within racial groups, like Rhode Island has done recently. There, Asian students must now identify their ancestral country of origin, while no other racial group is asked to specify. Wentzell said Connecticut has no plans to collect similar data, though researchers, including from the Connecticut Voices for Children, say that it could help better understand the state's significant achievement gaps.

HB 6412: This bill, introduced by New Haven State Rep. Robyn Porter and six others, would establish a pilot program to encourage teachers to live in the towns where they teach, starting in the districts with the most students of color and the highest poverty rates. Eighteen Yale College Democrats wrote emails supporting the bill, many of them pointing out that 77 percent of New Haven's teachers lived in the suburbs in 2010.

HB 6407, HB 6204: These bills by New Haven's representatives would encourage more racial diversity among school faculty. HB 6407, introduced by State Rep. Juan Candelaria, would set guidelines for school districts to increase the number of minority teacher hires by 2 percent annually for the next five years, while HB 6204, introduced by State Rep. Porter and Sen. Gary Winfield, would aim to create a pipeline of administrators of color, though it doesn't specify how.

HB 6472, HB 6891, SB 435: Finally, three bills would open up college degrees to students who can't afford tuition. Connecticut students currently have some of the worst student-debt burdens in the nation, as high as $38,500 per borrower. HB 6472 would allow in-state college grads to deduct the cost of their entire student loan payment from income tax, and HB 6891 would likewise allow a narrower deduction just for interest up to $2,500. But the bill that currently has the most support lined up, including State Sen. Martin Looney as a co-sponsor, is SB 435, which would allow businesses to write off half the cost of monthly student loan payments that they make for their employees. Even the Connecticut Business and Industry Association got behind that bill, saying it could enliven a graying workforce by making it easier for employers to recruit millennials with a nice benefit package.

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