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Education Bills Move Forward: Flexibility for Local Education Budgets, Student Privacy, Test Taking, and Choice for Urban Families

March 28, 2015

Hartford, CT – State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton), ranking member of the Education Committee, worked to move forward several bills that are being voted out of the Education Committee today, including House Bill 7019, An Act Concerning the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR). This legislation makes changes to the MBR which should help towns with their education budgets, especially districts dealing with declining enrollment.

“I have consistently called for the modification of such mandates as the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR),” said Sen. Boucher. “Towns should have more flexibility in managing their budgets, especially in municipalities that consistently rank in the top percentiles of student achievement.”

Student enrollment statewide has gone down 5 percent since 2007 and many of our towns in the double-digits. There are currently more than one thousand mandates, most of which are unfunded, that place an undue burden on towns already grappling with severe budget problems.

The minimum budget requirement is a burden to a municipal school budget. Local leaders currently may only reduce the budget by $3,000 for each student who is no longer enrolled in the district and no more than half of 1 percent of the previous year’s budget.

Most school systems spend on average $18,000 or more per student. The MBR bill which was supported by the Speaker of the House, among other things removes MBR completely for the top 10% performing school districts.

Senate Bill 1096, An Act concerning Charter Schools, originally sought to limit and restrict public charter schools in our urban centers.

“Connecticut’s charter school statutes are already very restrictive. The compromise language of the bill removed the moratorium and added language that would create more oversight and cooperation between public charters and their public school counterparts in an effort to improve education outcomes for our children” added Sen. Boucher. “Parents in the urban communities are looking for choice. The achievement gap is greatest in the inner cities and new models to address this gap that allow for innovation and a different learning environment should be encouraged. Innovation should be allowed to move forward and our minority parents and students should be supported. Along with greater oversight, transparency and accountability, the bill seeks most importantly to have public charter schools and public schools work together and share their best practices.”

While the vast majority of our school systems perform at a high level. The Connecticut Department of Education reports that 86 percent of charter elementary schools and 83 percent of charter high schools outperformed their inner cities and urban districts in 2013 on standardized tests.

Boucher is for oversight of charters and would like to see the state put measures in place to protect students and parents such as making charters subject to an audit.

House Bill 7017, An Act Concerning student Data Privacy, was a bill voted out of committee that addressed a problem that parents and advocates brought to our attention early in this session. This bill seeks to protect student’s data and keep it private from third parties, unless parents give permission.

“It is unfortunate that today, given the speed of advances in technology and the internet, that there are those that will use easily accessible data to identify targets for marketing purposes, and often for identity theft and other nefarious reasons,” said Boucher.

The bill also addresses the use of student directories. If there is a breach in student records it must be reported within 48 hours to authorities and if someone is trying to get information about students such as year book photos, interests, etc. local boards have the ability to refuse based on the fact that the request of the information is not for educational purposes.

This makes Connecticut’s student privacy and data collection rules even stricter than those of California.

Senate Bill 1095 An Act Concerning Students Assessments, addresses one of the more controversial areas of education this year.

“New assessments (SBAC), have caused an outcry among students, parents and teachers. The increased volume of test taking is a great concern and has prompted many to ask for more time to implement the new assessment system. It is my belief that teachers should be included in the process and made a part of the solution to address persisting question that remain about the content and wisdom of these tests,” remarked Boucher.

“We have had many suggesting that the final test prescribed for 11th graders should be given at the 10th grade level, so that any issues that arise can be addressed in the 11th and 12th grade.

“As it stands now students take PSATs, SATs, and AP’s in 11th grade. Adding one more significant test on top of this may be too much.”

These and many other education bills will now move on to the House and Senate or to other committees of cognizance.

If you have any questions regarding these bills, please feel free to contact me at any time at 860-240-0465, or Toni.Boucher@cga.ct.gov

Senator Boucher is a Ranking Member on the Education Committee, Transportation Committee, and Transportation Bonding Subcommittee. She was also the Wilton Board of Education Chair and a member of the State Board of Education.