PA 17-173—sHB 7253

Education Committee

Appropriations Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR REVISIONS AND ADDITIONS TO THE EDUCATION STATUTES

SUMMARY: This act makes the following changes in the education statutes:

1. requires the State Department of Education (SDE) to provide local and regional boards of education with mastery exam scores by August 15 of each school year following the exam administration ( 1);

2. postpones for two years, from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2018, the requirement that a person hold a master's degree in a subject matter area determined by the State Board of Education (SBE) in order to earn a professional educator certificate (the highest level of public school teacher certification) ( 2 & 3);

3. establishes a specific date by which the education commissioner must annually submit reports to the Education Committee on the commissioner's network of schools and requires the commissioner to annually present the reports to the committee by a specific date ( 4);

4. (a) requires public school superintendents to recommend in writing to the parents or guardians of a student that the child be examined by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist if the child is found to have a vision defect or eye disease during an in-school exam and (b) specifically allows an automated screening device to be considered equivalent to a Snellen chart screening and used in public school vision screenings ( 5);

5. changes the frequency of private special education provider audits and requires boards of education and private providers to provide auditors with information necessary to conduct the audits ( 6-8);

6. adds the chief court administrator, or his designee, to the membership of the Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap (see BACKGROUND) ( 9);

7. allows boards of education to employ candidates for marital and family therapist licensure in their schools to provide services to students and their parents or guardians ( 10);

8. allows boards of education to establish a “Pipeline for Connecticut's Future” program, in which boards of education must partner with local businesses to offer students on-site training and course credit ( 11);

9. allows a board of education to request from the education commissioner a one-time probationary extension for an uncertified, acting superintendent under certain circumstances ( 12);

10. establishes a task force to study issues related to high school interscholastic athletics programs ( 13);

11. provides that certain teachers and school administrators who return to work for a board of education after retirement under the existing reemployment exceptions may keep their Teacher Retirement System (TRS) health insurance benefits during the reemployment but removes the assurance that they will be eligible for local health benefits offered by the employing board ( 14); and

12. adds a representative from the Connecticut Association of Schools to the membership of SDE's Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, the body charged in statute with helping SBE develop teacher evaluation and support guidelines ( 15).

The act also makes technical and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2017, except the sections about special education provider audits ( 6-8), the Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap ( 9), superintendent probationary periods ( 12), the athletics programs task force ( 13), and the TRS health coverage ( 14) take effect upon passage.

4 — COMMISSIONER'S NETWORK REPORTS

By law, the “commissioner's network of schools” is a program that selects certain low-performing schools to craft turnaround plans aimed at improving student performance. The state supplies additional funds to help implement a school's turnaround plan once the education commissioner approves it.

Prior law required the commissioner to submit two annual reports to the Education Committee: one on the academic performance of each school in the network and another comparing and analyzing the academic performance of all schools in the network. Under the act, the reports are due February 1, 2018, and annually thereafter.

Additionally, prior law required the commissioner to submit a final report to the Education Committee on each school in the network after the schools' respective turnaround plans expire. In this report, the commissioner evaluates each plan and the school's academic performance under the plan and makes recommendations about the school's operation. The act specifies that the commissioner must submit these final reports no later than February 1 after the expiration of the respective turnaround plans.

The act also requires the commissioner to present these reports to the Education Committee by February 1 of each year, along with a report due January 1, 2020 under existing law in which the commissioner must evaluate the entire network and make recommendations about its operation.

6-8 — AUDITS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION PROVIDERS

By law, the state auditors must examine the records and accounts of private special education providers. The examination must include a compliance audit of whether the private provider expended state or local funds for allowable costs in accordance with (1) state and federal law and (2) the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or individual services plan for each child receiving special education and related services from the provider.

Under the act, the auditors must conduct such audits as often as they deem necessary using a risk-based approach, rather than auditing each provider at least once every seven years as required by prior law. (Existing law still limits the number of audits of a private provider to no more than once every five years, however, unless the auditors have found a problem with the provider's records and accounts.) The act also removes the requirement that half of these audits conducted in a year must be of SDE-approved private providers, and the other half be of non-approved private providers. Instead, it specifies that both types of providers must be audited.

Additionally, the act requires boards of education, as well as private providers, to give the auditors any information the auditors deem necessary to conduct the audit.

12 — EXTENSION OF ACTING SUPERINTENDENT PROBATIONARY PERIOD

Existing law allows a board of education to appoint an uncertified, acting superintendent for a one-year probationary period with the education commissioner's approval. The act allows the board, at the conclusion of the probationary period, to request that the commissioner grant a one-time probationary period extension, up to one additional school year. In order to grant the extension, the commissioner must determine that the board has shown a significant need or hardship.

13 — TASK FORCE ON INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETICS PROGRAMS

The act creates a 12-member task force to study the governance, financing, general conduct, and role of high school interscholastic athletics programs in Connecticut. The Education Committee's administrative staff must serve as the task force staff. The act establishes the task force study scope and membership.

Study Scope

The task force study must examine the following topics:

1. barriers to participation in sanctioned interscholastic athletic activities,

2. the impact of non-sanctioned activities on interscholastic sports participation,

3. financing of interscholastic athletic teams,

4. policies regarding school districts' performance reviews of interscholastic athletics,

5. the athletic season's length for specific sports and restrictions on participation in interscholastic athletics,

6. academic requirements for interscholastic athletics participation,

7. participant and spectator safety and sportsmanship, and

8. issues relating to participation by students enrolled in private schools and schools of choice.

The task force must report its findings and recommendations to the Education Committee by January 1, 2018. It terminates on that date or the date it submits the report, whichever is later.

Membership

The House speaker, the House majority and minority leaders, the Senate president pro tempore, the Senate Republican president pro tempore, and the Senate majority leader each appoint one member to the task force. The legislative leaders' six appointees may be legislators. Any vacancy must be filled by the appointing authority.

The following associations each have one representative on the task force:

1. Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference,

2. Connecticut High School Coaches Association,

3. Connecticut Athletic Directors Association,

4. Connecticut Association of Boards of Education,

5. Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, and

6. Connecticut Parent Teacher Association.

The act requires that the legislative leaders appoint their members to the task force within 30 days after the act's passage (i.e., August 5, 2017). The House speaker and Senate president pro tempore must select the task force chairpersons, who must schedule and hold the first task force meeting within 60 days after the act's passage (i.e., September 4, 2017).

14 — HEALTH CARE COVERAGE FOR REEMPLOYED RETIRED TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS

The act makes changes to the health benefit eligibility for reemployed, retired teachers and administrators. Specifically, these changes affect eligibility for TRS health benefits and local health benefits offered by the employing board of education.

TRS Health Benefits

Under the act, certain teachers and school administrators who return to work for a board of education after retirement under the existing reemployment exceptions can continue their TRS health coverage during the reemployment.

Generally, retired public school teachers and administrators cannot return to work for a school district and continue to receive retirement benefits from the TRS. By law, there are four exceptions to this. It is allowed if one of the following criteria is met:

1. the employee's salary is capped at no more than 45% of the maximum salary for the position;

2. the employee has at least 34 years of credited service, is reemployed in an alliance district, and was already employed in that district on July 1, 2015;

3. the employee works for a board of education (a) in a position designated as a shortage area or (b) of a priority school district; or

4. the employee does not receive any retirement benefits during the reemployment (i.e., the employee “un-retires”).

Under prior law, the reemployed employee could not receive TRS health coverage in any of the above situations. The act gives TRS health coverage to the first three groups by eliminating the prior law provision that prohibited such employees from receiving TRS health insurance coverage.

For the fourth group (the “unretired”), the act applies the above-mentioned provisions; however, another statute, unchanged by the act, only provides TRS health coverage to those receiving retirement benefits (CGS 10-183t(a)). Therefore, the fourth group remains ineligible to receive TRS health coverage.

Local Health Benefits

The act also removes the requirement that the first three categories of reemployed retirees be eligible for the same health insurance benefits as active teachers employed by the school system. Under prior law, the first two categories were guaranteed these local health benefits, while the third category was eligible pending approval by the employing board of education.

By law, unchanged by the act, the fourth category of “un-retired” teachers remains eligible for these local health benefits.

BACKGROUND

Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap

This council is charged with assisting the achievement gap task force in developing its master plan, implementing the plan, and submitting annual progress reports on plan implementation to the Education Committee (CGS 10-16nn).