Sen. Doug McCrory Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

Raises for early childhood educators, grants to expand school-based health centers, and scholarships to boost the recruitment of minority teachers were among the policies included in a multifaceted bill passed Thursday by the state Senate. 

Lawmakers passed the bill, designated Senate Bill 1, in a 33 to 2 afternoon vote, sending it to the House. The legislation compliments a separate package, passed last week aimed at boosting the state’s threadbare mental health services for kids.  

Sen. Doug McCrory, a Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the Education Committee, said the state’s child care industry had suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This provides immediate relief in the way of wages and other urgent needs,” McCrory said. “We have a major, major issue when it comes to early childhood education. We are losing teachers faster than we can replace them and one of the reasons why we are losing teachers is the fact that we are not paying them well.”

Among other things, the bill dedicates $70 million to increase the salaries of child care workers and early education professionals. It increases state funding to child development centers to raise the available spaces for infants and toddlers from around 1,500 to 2,800. The bill sets aside $10 million for grants to expand services at school-based health centers. It makes $1 million in scholarships available to help recruit more minority teachers.

“It will be money well spent for the right reasons,” Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, said adding that early childhood centers had experienced difficulty retaining people to work in those facilities. 

Another provision of the bill requires the Education Department to administer a grant program to help local boards of education recruit and retain behavioral health professionals like social workers, counselors and psychologists as well as nurses in Connecticut schools. 

“We know that in many cases, mental health care begins and ends in the schools,” Senate President Martin Looney said. “In so many cases families don’t have the resources or the ability to connect with a private provider outside of school.”

Republican Sens. Rob Sampson of Wolcott and Ryan Fazio of Greenwich cast votes against the bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

Fazio sought to amend the bill to eliminate teacher certification fees. The amendment failed along party lines. 

“There is a conversation we’re having to take those costs away,” McCrory said. “If we can’t get it done this year I’m looking to find the dollars.” 

As far as the overall issue is concerned most Senators felt it was an expensive, but necessary piece of legislation. 

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, pointed out that this is the third children’s mental health bill they have on their agenda this year. 

“This bill will cost $175 million and this combined with Senate Bill 2 that we passed last week and the corresponding House Bill 5001, all three of these bills are important,” Hwang said. “There is going to be a cost and for me, this cost as I said before, is well worth it.” 

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the money is in the budget for this legislation. 

“It’s going to be paid for in a way that is appropriate,” Formica said.