The Appropriations Committee budget hearings are over, but the work in the legislature continues. Individual committees are still looking at the budget implementers and holding hearings. Meanwhile, the Finance Committee has started to discuss the revenue side of the budget.
Not everything in the legislature has to do with the budget, however. This week we will look at bills in front of the Education, Human Service and Children Committees, give a quick explanation of vehicle bills and review the main points of our Children's Budget.
This Week: Committee Hearings
Four committees are holding hearings on bills we are tracking this week: Children, Education, Human Services, and Finance.
The Finance Committee hearing was just posted today, so we are still going over the individual bills and what they do. The hearing will take place Friday, March 3, at 1:00 PM in room 2E. We will send a follow up with more details tomorrow, but it is important to testify on Finance because revenue bills originate in that committee.
Committee on Children
Tuesday, February 28 – Room 2A, 10:00 AM
H.B. 7111 – An act concerning the restraint, seclusion and placing in time out of students by school employees
This bill clarifies the difference between time-out and seclusion and prohibits the use of seclusion as part of Individualized Education Programs (IEP, for special education students).
Why is it important? Both are positive changes that will restrict exclusionary discipline practices in schools.
How to testify:
Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 9:00 AM in Room 2A of the LOB and will be first come, first serve. Bring 30 copies of your testimony. For written testimony, email KIDtestimony@cga.ct.gov.
Wednesday, March 1 – Room 1E, 10:30 AM
S.B.2 An act concerning the development of a more equitable cost-sharing formula
This is a vehicle bill (see below for more about what that means) to introduce changes to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula. The bill in its current form does not include any details on possible reforms.
Why is it important? The Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula provides state funds to localities to help ensure that schools have sufficient funds to provide an adequate education for all students. The ECS formula has not been followed nor fully funded since 2013.
Changes in the ECS formula should be based on research identifying how much money is needed to adequately educate all children in Connecticut. Therefore, we need a costing out or adequacy study that will tell us how much a quality education will cost. Also, the ECS formula should be based on the principle that some students require additional funds to achieve an adequate education. An improved ECS formula would allocate additional funds to students in poverty, English language learners, and special education students. If we are making dramatic changes in the ECS formula, we need to identify the true cost of an adequate education, gather appropriate data, and hear from school boards, superintendents, parents, and national education funding experts.
The Governor's budget proposal also includes changes to the ECS formula. We describe them in our Children´s Budget report.
H.B. 7035 An act implementing the Governor's budget recommendations concerning education
This bill translates the Governor's budget proposal regarding education into law. You can read about the specifics in our Children's Budget report.
Why is it important? As we mention in the Children's Budget analysis, the Governor's proposal includes several key changes to the ECS formula that reduces the amount of funds allocated based on student economic need, eliminates the special education excess cost grant, and adopts an imprecise measure of poverty.
While this bill proposes increasing the amount of money dedicated specifically toward special education, the elimination of the Special Education Excess Cost Grant means that students with particularly high needs might not get essential services and small districts might suffer.
H.B. 7035 also proposes using HUSKY A as a measure of poverty in the ECS formula. This not an accurate estimate of the number of students in poverty. Among children below 200% FPL in Connecticut, 76% are on public health insurance, 19% are only on private insurance, and 5% of children have no health insurance. Therefore, 24% of students in poverty would not be counted by using HUSKY A as a proxy for poverty. Read our notes on K-12 education funding in our Children's Budget report for more details.
S.B. 711 Minimum budget requirements for education for districts with enrollment declines
A Connecticut law known as the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) currently mandates that towns spend no less on education than they did the previous year within a set cap based on the percentage of students living in poverty. This bill would let most districts cut education spending even more if enrollment declines.
Why is it important? Given the importance of adequate school funding for a quality education for all students, we are concerned that these changes might lead to lower levels of funding and quality. Please note that the Governor's proposal also relaxes the MBR, but using a different criterion.
S.B. 912 Revisions to the staff qualifications requirement for early childhood educators
Currently, 2020 is the deadline for every early childhood educator in a center receiving state funding to obtain a bachelor's degree in an early childhood-related field. The only approved institutions are in Connecticut. Many centers will not meet the staffing requirements in time. This bill would allow staff to qualify with a bachelor's degree in any major from an approved school if they earn at least twelve credits related to early childhood or childhood development.
Why is it important? The bill would expand the number of people that are considered qualified to be early childhood educators. Although this would help alleviate the state's shortage of early childhood teachers, it also dilutes present efforts to professionalize the early childhood workforce.
Voices supports the Early Childhood Alliance proposal to allow staff to qualify as early childhood educators through a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from any regionally accredited institution, whether in or outside Connecticut, which may help attract qualified teachers from outside the state.
All bills – how to testify:
Speakers will be determined by a lottery system; lottery numbers will be drawn from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. in the First Floor Atrium of the LOB. Speakers arriving after the completion of the lottery should report to Room 3100 of the LOB and will have their names placed at the end of the speaker list. Bring 55 copies of written testimony if you are not able to email your testimony in advance.
Written testimony must be submitted no later than 9:30 A.M. on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 to the committee staff via email at EDtestimony@cga.ct.gov in Word or PDF format no later than 5:30 P.M. on Tuesday, February 28.
Human Services Committee
Thursday, March 2 – Room 2C, 12:00 PM
H.B. 7040 An act implementing the Governor´s budget recommendations for human services programs.
This bill translates the Governor's budget proposal regarding human services into legislative language. Our Children´s Budget analysis has the full details.
Why is it important? The Governor's proposed budget cuts several key programs, including HUSKY eligibility for parents and Medicaid dental coverage. We oppose many of these cuts, and encourage those affected to testify against them.
How to testify:
Sign-up for the hearing will be from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. in the Second Floor Atrium of the LOB. Please email written testimony in Word or PDF format to HStestimony@cga.ct.gov.
Legislative Arcana: Vehicle Bills
It is not rare during the session to run into "vehicle bills" like S.B. 2. Here is the full text of the bill as of today:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:
That section 10-262h of the general statutes be amended to develop a new formula for equalization aid grants that distributes funds more equitably among towns.
That is, the bill really is not saying much at all. This is what legislators call "vehicle bills," basically empty legislative shells with little or no language that might be used at a later date to introduce legislation via an amendment.
This is done for two reasons. First, all bills must originate in a committee. Legislators might want to introduce legislation after the committee's deadlines for a new bill, so sometimes vehicle bills are used to do this.
Second, in some cases legislators simply do not know yet what they want to include in a bill. The contents might depend on negotiations with the Governor, discussions with leadership on specifics, the product of merging several bills in one, or what is included in the budget. A vehicle bill allows lawmakers to continue working on its language without as many time constraints, leaving debate for the House or Senate floor.
This might make sense from a lawmaking perspective, but often translates in complicated, extensive legislative proposals that never receive a public hearing. Vehicle bills make the legislative process more opaque, restricting input from the general public. We understand that they have a role, but they make our job as advocates harder.
Spotlight: Children's Budget
Analysis of the Governor's Budget Proposal
The state budget is a reflection of Connecticut's priorities. For decades, our state has built communities with high quality of life and a world-class education system, and has promoted opportunity for all children and families.
In our new analysis of the Governor's budget proposal, we find that Connecticut is departing from these long-standing commitments. The Children's Budget, the share of the state budget devoted to children, is down to a new low. The Governor's biennial budget proposal would reduce the Children's Budget from 29.5 percent of General Fund spending in the current fiscal year to 29 percent in FY 2018 and 28.6 percent in FY 2019.
You can download the full report, with a detailed analysis on the cuts, new revenue, and budget structural challenges, here.
News and Updates: Minimum Wage
Two bills increasing the minimum wage were up for a vote last week in the Labor Committee: one from the Senate, one from the House.
The Senate bill failed after one of the chairs asked to split the committee for the vote (we explained what that means here); the House bill was approved in a 7-6 vote. CT News Junkie has more details.
Demystifying the State Budget and Fighting for Children
Derek Thomas and Ray Noonan will present at Hadlyme Public Hall on Saturday, March 4th to talk about the Connecticut state budget and our recent reports on property tax reform, revenue options, and the Children's Budget. This talk is part of the Activism Teach-In conference hosted by Together We Rise Connecticut.
Click here to register.
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