More money for schools is in, standardization of sex education is out, and proposed nutritional standards for school food will likely need more work as a pair of school funding and transparency bills made it out of the legislature’s Education Committee on Friday.
HB 5003, An Act Concerning Education Funding In Connecticut, would speed up the state’s year-to-year phase-in of new school funding metrics, regardless of whether they are magnet schools, charter, or traditional public schools. SB 1, An Act Concerning Transparency In Schools, would create a new framework for financial disclosures across school districts.
While presenting HB 5003, the first of the pair to be voted on, committee co-chair Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said that he expected that the house bill would be rolled into SB 1 once both leave the committee.
The house bill easily passed the committee with 44 votes in favor and none in opposition. SB 1 proved to be more contentious, though it also passed with 28 votes in favor and 16 opposed.
“We have a true and tried formula that our traditional public schools have been using that is based on enrollment and a number of metrics of student needs,” Currey said. “The state will now use the same formulas and metrics for funding traditional public schools as they do for public magnet and charter schools.”
Currey explained that it was important to pass the funding bill as soon as possible, to ensure that school districts that had been able to benefit from COVID-19 relief grants were able to continue to provide the services those grants originally enabled.
“We’re going to be facing a fiscal cliff in the next few years,” said Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford. “In the last session we’ve put in multiple mental health supports for our students, hired new counselors, new social workers, and mental health providers. This bill protects those supports for our schools.”
Currey also said that he hopes the funding can address a severe education gap in the state.
“Right in our very own backyard we have one of the lowest performing districts in the entire country,” Currey said. “We can celebrate that we’re the second or third greatest public school system in the country, and it’s cute to say that, but you really have to dive in and take a look at what’s going on in every single one of our communities to see the work that needs to get done.”
Among the proposed changes in the bill, the state would institute a chart of accounts for every school board, in order to create uniformity among all public schools – including magnet and charter schools – in terms of how they report their budgets and expenditures.
“I do have some concerns with some of the provisions in the bill,” McCarty said. “I think the intent of this bill is to bring equity and transparency to funding across the district. I would just like to see if we can have some more ongoing conversation with the Department of Education as to how we can have the financial systems work for both, so that it’s not an extra unfunded mandate.”
SB 1 would standardize, provide training for local school board members on state regulation, establish a minimum standard of available classroom subject matter, including arts, career education and human growth and development, set new nutritional standards for food sold in schools, and allow for the state designate additional districts as alliance districts, which receive increased funding.
Currey noted that the section standardizing sex education across schools in a previous version of the bill had been stripped from the latest edition.
“I think that the bill is much better than it was, especially since you took the sex education out of it,” said Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham. “I would also like to say that addressing the nutritional content of the lunches is very important, but some places have gone too far with some of these things.”
In place of the sex education piece, the nutrition rules proved to be among the most contentious. The bill basically bans the sale of any food items branded the same as food sold in stores or other places outside of the school if both products have different ingredients or nutritional value.
“If it’s sold in your corner store, it’s not going to be sold in the school,” Currey said. “A bag of Doritos would not be available, because it’s available in the marketplace.”
Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, worried about how broadly the new rules might apply.
“It says ‘no person shall sell or offer for sale.’ My only concern is that a lot of times fundraisers involve candy bars or Girl Scouts selling cookies,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see them negatively affected by this.”
Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, said she didn’t like the language of the bill, either.
“I just feel like our parents’ rights are being taken away over and over again,” Seminara said.
Currey speculated that the language would likely be clarified as the bill progresses.
“I don’t believe that the reading of the legislation discusses what a parent or child is able to bring in their own brown bag, but I appreciate the context and I look forward to continuing this conversation,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the final vote tally for each bill.