P.A. 22-80 An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools. (S.B. 1)

Home P.A. 22-80 An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools. (S.B. 1)

✅ Alliance Support

Click here to read The Alliance’s testimony.

Public Act 22-80 (S.B. 1) is one of three major bills passed in 2022 addressing the children’s mental health crisis in Connecticut. It includes a significant number of policy changes, detailed below.

Information about select sections is below. To read a detailed analysis of each section of the bill from the Office of Legislative Research, please click here.

§ 1 – Survey on School Social Workers, Psychologists, Counselors, and Nurses

The bill requires SDE to develop and distribute a survey that school districts must annually complete on the number of school social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses they employ; requires the education commissioner to calculate the student-to-worker ratio for each of the four types of professionals and report the survey results and the ratios to the Education and Children’s committees.

§ 2 & 18 – New Grant for School Social Workers, Psychologists, Counselors, and Nurses

The bill requires SDE to administer a program, for FYs 23 to 25, to provide grants to school districts to hire and retain more school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors and nurses. Under the bill, a school social worker is a person who holds a professional educator certificate with a school social worker endorsement. (Presumably, the school psychologists, school counselors and school nurses must also hold the respective education certificates and endorsements for those positions.)

The bill appropriates $60,000 to SDE for FY 23 to hire a full-time administrator to run the school social workers and school psychologists grant program it creates.

§ 3 – Human Services Permit

The bill authorizes the State Board of Education (SBE) to issue, at the request of a school district or regional educational service center (RESC), a human services permit to qualified applicants with specialized training, experience, or expertise in social work, human services, psychology, or sociology. The permit authorizes the applicant to work for a school district or RESC and provide students with mental health and human services, in accordance with the applicant’s scope of practice or area of expertise or specialty.

§§ 4 & 5 – Mental Health Plan for Student Athletes

By July 1, 2023, the bill requires SDE to make a mental health plan for student athletes in collaboration with the intramural and interscholastic athletics governing authority.

Under the bill, the plan must be made available to local and regional boards of education to raise awareness about available mental health resources for student athletes, and all boards of education must implement it beginning in the 2023-24 school year.

§§ 6-8 – Opioid Antagonists in Schools

The bill generally (1) allows school nurses and qualified school employees to maintain and administer opioid antagonists to students who do not have prior written authorization to receive the medication; (2) requires SDE to develop related guidelines by October 1, 2022; (3) authorizes certain prescribers and pharmacists to enter into agreements with school boards on the distribution and administration of opioid antagonists; and (4) requires DCP to provide school boards with information on how to acquire opioid antagonists from manufacturers.

§ 10 – Task Force to Combat Ableism

The bill establishes a 13-member task force to combat ableism that must identify (1) current efforts to educate all students on disability and combat ableism in classrooms and in the public school curriculum and (2) opportunities to expand these efforts and integrate them into social- emotional learning. Under the bill “ableism” means intentional or unintentional bias, prejudice, or discrimination, against people with physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities.

§§ 12–14 —School Readiness Program Expansion

Under current law, a school readiness program is a nonreligious, state-funded education program that provides a developmentally appropriate learning experience for children between ages three and five who are too young to enroll in kindergarten (CGS § 10-16p). The bill eliminates the requirement that school readiness programs be nonreligious.

Beginning in FY 23, the bill requires the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) commissioner to coordinate with local and regional school readiness councils to conduct needs assessments for infant, toddler, and preschool spaces in Connecticut school readiness programs. The commissioner must use the assessment’s results to (1) increase or adjust the number of these spaces to meet each community’s need or demand and (2) provide grants for these space adjustments. Existing law, unchanged by the bill, limits school readiness program enrollment to children aged three to five.

By law, OEC awards school readiness funds using two different methods: a school readiness grant program and a competitive grant program. School readiness program grants are awarded to priority and former priority school districts. Competitive grants are awarded to (1) areas served by a priority or former priority school, (2) the 50 poorest or formerly poorest towns whose school district is not a priority district, and (3) towns that are alliance districts (CGS § 10-16p(c)-(d)). Priority school districts are those (1) whose students earned low standardized test scores, (2) that have high poverty levels, or (3) that are in one of the eight most populated towns (CGS § 10-266p).

The bill requires the OEC commissioner to provide school readiness grants under the following timeline to increase infant, toddler, and preschool spaces in school readiness programs based upon needs assessment results:

  1. in FY 24, the commissioner must provide grants to programs in priority school districts;
  2. in FYs 25-26, the commissioner must provide grants to programs in competitive municipalities, defined for FY 25 as the 100 poorest municipalities (but undefined for FY 26), and;
  3. in FY 27 and after that, the commissioner must provide grants to programs in each community in the state.

Beginning in FY 23, the bill increases the per child cost cap used to calculate school readiness program grants for OEC’s school readiness competitive grant program. Specifically, it raises the cap on the per child cost of a program for enrolled children ages three to five by $5,473, increasing the maximum cost from $9,027 per enrolled student to $14,500. It also creates a new per child cost cap for children ages three or younger who are in infant or toddler care and not in a preschool program, setting the per child cost for that age group at $16,000.

This increase affects the calculation of OEC’s competitive school readiness grant. By law, the grant amount for an applicant town is calculated by multiplying the per child cost by the number of spaces in the school readiness program. Therefore, a program that provides services at a cost above the current per child cap will receive a grant for enrolled students ages three to five years old that is up to $5,473 larger per child under the bill.

The bill also makes two changes to how the OEC commissioner and licensed school readiness programs may spend excess school readiness grant funds:

  1. Provider and Staff Scholarships: Current law allows the OEC commissioner to use up to $1 million of any appropriated, unexpended school readiness grant funds in the following fiscal year to provide, among other things, professional development for early childhood care and education program providers and their staff, so long as their programs accept state funds for infant, toddler, and preschool spaces. The bill expands this use of funds to include scholarships for these providers and their staff members. Existing law, unchanged by the bill, requires the commissioner to use the funds to assist individual staff members with the cost of higher educational courses leading to a bachelor’s degree. She may give up to $10,000 per staff member per year for this purpose.
  2. Staff Salary Increases: Current law requires licensed school readiness programs to use unspent school readiness grant funds that exceed the per child school readiness cost for FY 20 (i.e., $8,927) to increase salaries for individuals who directly teach or care for children in a school readiness classroom. The bill eliminates this requirement.

§§ 15-17 Early Childcare Salary Increases

Beginning in FY 23, the bill requires OEC to administer the early childhood care and education salary enhancement grant program. OEC must annually pay a salary enhancement grant to each family child care home and early childhood care and education program, which in turn must distribute the funds to their eligible employees consistent with OEC policy.

Compensation Schedule: Existing law required OEC to develop a proposed early childhood educator compensation schedule for employees of early childhood education programs and submit it, along with cost estimates, implementation recommendations, and other analyses to the Appropriations and Education committees by January 1, 2021. Specifically, the compensation schedule must be a list or series of lists specifying a series of compensation steps and ranges for the salary, wages, benefits, and other forms of valuable consideration provided to employees for their work.

The bill requires OEC to amend the compensation schedule to include employees of “early childhood care and education programs” by January 1, 2023. Under the bill, these employees include people who meet the following criteria:

  1. work for a (a) child care center, group child care home, or school readiness program that does not accept state funds; (b) child care or school readiness program that accepts state funds for infant, toddler, and preschool spaces; (c) private preschool program; or (d) state-funded child care center for disadvantaged children and
  2. satisfy the eligibility criteria described in OEC’s (a) compensation schedule, rather than the staff qualifications requirements established by law as current law requires for the January 2021 schedule, and (b) policies for the early childhood care and education salary enhancement program.

Beginning July 1, 2022, the bill requires each early childhood care and education program employee to be paid an annual salary as prescribed in the OEC-developed compensation schedule. By law, OEC must establish a recommended minimum salary for employees as part of the proposed early childhood educator compensation schedule. If, however, an employee’s salary is greater than the amount prescribed in the schedule, then the employee must be paid the greater amount.

Because this requirement takes effect in 2022, salaries must reflect the 2021 compensation schedule, not the new 2023 schedule required by this bill.

§§ 20 & 21 – School-Based Health Center Grants

The bill makes a $21.24 million appropriation in FY 22 to DPH to expand existing school-based health centers’ services to include mental health services. (It is unclear how funds will be appropriated if the bill takes affect after FY 22 and whether a FY 22 appropriation can be used in FY 23.) It also requires the department to make available $590,000 of this appropriation for grants in FY 23 to expand mental health services in the 36 sites recommended in the School-Based Health Center Expansion Working Group’s final report.

§§ 22 & 23 – Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP) Funds

The bill allocates $13 million each year for FYs 23 and 24 from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 funds designated for the state to SDE to support school districts participating in the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP). For FY 23 the funds support LEAP in 15 existing school districts and expands participation to an additional five high-need districts. In FY 24, the funds support LEAP in all 20 districts.

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