Education Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-7016

Title:

AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE MORE COMMISSION SPECIAL EDUCATION SELECT WORKING GROUP.

Vote Date:

3/27/2015

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/19/2015

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Education Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

The purpose of this bill is to implement survey responses provided as recommendations of the Special Education Select Working Group to the MORE Commission. This bill is believed to be a first step to improving delivery of special education services in local school districts while relieving cost and delivery burdens. Specifically the bill addresses the following: (1) changes in required credit hours for special education certification, (2) addition of a school paraprofessional in a Planning and Placement Team meeting at the parent's request, (3) increased tracking of federal special education and Medicaid funds towards special education services, (4) a new, user-friendly Individualized Education Program (IEP) form that can be easily accessible to parents, (5) and the creation of an IEP Advisory Council.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Interim Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell: Interim Commissioner Wentzell supports passage of the bill and the focus of the bill on matters related to special education. The Department supports reporting on IDEA funds and provisions leading to development of a new IEP form. Commissioner Wentzell asked for clarification on sections of the proposed bill that are related to special education funds and Medicaid funds (Section 2), clarification on the legal source for the Program Advisory Council (Section 4), and references to an Illinois data system and conflicting dates with implementation of a digital IEP (Section 6).

Morna A. Murray, Commissioner, Department of Developmental Services: Commissioner Murray testified to the recommendations of the MORE Commission's Special Education working group on which the proposed bill is based. The commissioner emphasized the role of DDS in collaborating with other state agencies, including the State Department of Education, on matters including transitioning special education students into day service or employment programs so that skills learned in school are reinforced and developed without interruption. The Department raised questions in their testimony about Section 2 of the proposed bill citing, that references Medicaid funding. Medicaid funding is currently used for services directed toward children and youth but are not currently used to reimburse services that come under the heading of special education or special education programs.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Representative J. Brendan Sharkey, Speaker of the House: Representative Sharkey testified in support, commending the work of the MORE Commission Subcommittee Working Group on the survey level recommendations that are at the core of the proposed bill. Representative Sharkey testified that the bill is an example of “commonsense reforms” the Legislature should consider while the Working Group continues to identify new ways to improve special education. The Representative made it a point in his testimony to discuss regional delivery of special education services as a means of relieving pressure on local school budgets from increasingly unsustainable and unpredictable special education costs. Representative Sharkey asked the bill be amended to add language that enables RESCs to take inventory of existing services, establish a baseline of costs, and identify gaps and deficiencies in special education services.

Bob Namnoum, Appointee to MORE Commission, Connecticut Education Association: Mr. Namnoum, speaking on behalf of the CEA, supports the bill with reservations. Mr. Namnoum supports several provisions of the bill including the tracking of federal funds pursuant to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Medicaid program, transition services post-secondary education, and a more user friendly Individualized Education Program (IEP) form. These items were the result of countless hours of work informed by parents, advocates, local administrators, and the State Department of Education. The CEA has reservations about Section 12 of the proposed bill in regards to how the language should be read against existing statute. Mr. Namnoum stressed that the CEA would like a clearer interpretation on this section before making judgment.

Connecticut Association of Boards of Education: CABE supports passage of the proposed bill and testified that there should be adequate resources, “whether through funding or human capital.” CABE expressed reservations in Section 13 of the proposed bill that extends to parents the right to have school paraprofessionals present in all portions of the PPT, “may impose an unreasonable burden and disrupt the education of other students, particularly in those cases where a paraprofessional works with multiple students.”

The RESC Alliance of Regional Education Service Centers: The RESC Alliance supports passage of the proposed bill, specifically the bills mention of regional solutions to local special education needs. The RESC Alliance recommended to the committee that the legislature consider having RESC's assist in data collection from local school districts to assist in determining if services are best provided within a school district or a regional setting.

Diane Willcuts, Resident, West Hartford: Ms. Willcutts supports the proposed bill, specifically the provisions including paraprofessionals at Planning and Placement Team meetings (PPTs) with parent requests. Ms. Willcuts testified that as paraprofessionals often have the most access with a student, parents should have access to all staff who are working with their children. Ms. Willcuts did express concern over the proposed bill's requirement of audits of private schools who receive state or local funds for special education. She testified that she believes this practice will discourage private schools from providing special education services.

Nate Snow, Executive Director, Teach for America, Connecticut: Teach for America supports the proposed bill but described teacher professional development prescribed in the bill as best delivered “in-service.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Mark D. Benigni, Superintendent, Meriden Public Schools: Dr. Benigni testified as the chair of the Board of Directors of the State Education Resource Center (SERC) on behalf of the members of the board. He opposed the proposed bill because the language does not mention or include SERC on special education matters. SERC is described by Dr. Benigni as a body created by statute to assist the State to meet its responsibilities to students with disabilities. Dr. Benigni asked that the committee include SERC in the proposed bill before moving forward.

Reported by: Joshua Flores, Assistant Clerk

Date: 4/8/2015