HARTFORD, CT – The Connecticut House of Representatives Wednesday passed a comprehensive education bill that, among other things, seeks to update state laws around school climate and bullying, recruit a more diverse teaching corps, and improve transparency around local school budgets.
The proposal, which garnered a 104-47 vote, also previously cleared the Senate with a party-line vote. It now goes to Gov. Ned Lamont.
The bill is a hodgepodge of more than 10 bills that the Education Committee considered earlier this session.
“I think the education committee took an aggressive approach to trying to find a number ways that we can enhance the profession, that we can protect students and that we provide conditions that our students are able to learn in healthy and safe environments,” committee co-Chairman Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said.
But the size of the bill opened it up to plenty of objections from Republicans, most of whom voted against it.
“There isn’t much in this legislation that gets me to support it,” Rep. Rachel Chaleski, R-Danbury, said.
One of the key pieces of the legislation is an attempt to address bullying in school. The bill requires the state Department of Education to come up with a model policy around bullying and school climate, including a standardized complaint form for the department and local schools.
The bill updates the definition of “school climate” under state law to mean the quality of life, “with a particular focus on the quality of the relationships within” each school.
The bill also changes the state’s definition of bullying to cover “unwanted and aggressive behavior among children … that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” The bill also groups existing definitions for cyberbullying and teen dating violence into the broader term of bullying.
School boards would be required to come up with a policy before the 2025-26 school year on how to use restorative practices to address nonviolent bullying or “challenging behavior,” or actions that “negatively impacts school climate or interferes” with school operations.
“We are setting up a system that is no longer going to be stigmatizing students with punitive, kind of — or measures taken against them,” Currey said.
But some Republicans were worried the language was too broad.
“I would argue that I run into challenging behavior every day because I’m on a mission to do what I’m doing and people get in my way,” said Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonginton, said.
The bill also seeks to bolster existing efforts to increase diversity among teachers, including requiring school boards to submit plans on improving diversity to the Education Department. Existing law already requires the school boards to come up with those plans.
“I think that having a plan to make sure we’re recruiting and retaining teachers, especially teachers of color, is very crucial,” said Rep. Maryam Khan, D-Windsor.
Other changes in the bill would require the Education Department to come up with training for newly elected school board members. Republicans warned that the required training would deter people from running for school boards, which are volunteer positions.
“We want newly elected people with fresh ideas, [a] fresh way of doing things to really energize and put some new energy into our schools,” Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, said.
The bill would also require local school boards to provide budget information, including revenues and expenditures, and demographic and enrollment to the Education Department.
Currey said this is an attempt to evaluate how effective school districts are using grants from Education Cost Sharing, the Alliance District and other funding programs.
“In order to really do that, we really need an apples-to-apples comparison of what districts schools are spending money on,” he said, adding he hopes the reporting will help identify best practices for districts to follow.
Even within this bill, underperforming districts within the Alliance District program would be given more flexibility on how they use funds.
The bill would allow districts to establish family resource centers that provide child care services, teach remedial classes and offer support services for families that meet income guidelines.