Legislation adopted by the Senate on Thursday would boost preschool teachers’ salaries, hire additional school psychologists, nurses, and social workers, as well as educate more school employees in the use of opioid antidotes.
According to Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford and a co-chairman of the legislature Education Committee, an increase in the funds for baby and toddler programs and preschool pupils from the current $8,543 to $13,500 per child has been proposed. In the next year, another $20 million will be invested.
An investment of $70 million was made by McCrory, a school administrator, in the form of a $25,000 salary for skilled preschool instructors when they might be earning considerably more in other professions. “That is a $70 million investment,” McCrory remarked.
Over the last two years, he added, “we have come to know that in the state of Connecticut we have a tremendous, major problem with early childhood education…. Teacher turnover is outpacing our ability to hire new ones. The fact that we are not adequately compensating our educators and instructors is one of the factors contributing to their departure from our ranks. Individuals in this sector should be able to earn a living salary while doing so, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“We were astonished at how low their salaries are,” said Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, a key Republican on the Education Committee, who examined the measure with McCrory on the Senate floor.
As a companion piece to two other bills, one of which was just approved by the Senate and another that passed the House on Wednesday, this measure aims to address the emotional and behavioral health needs of children affected by the COVID pandemic.
In all, the three proposed pieces of legislation would provide nearly $125 million to aid children, raise wages, and boost mental health and behavioral care.
According to Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of Connecticut, “It is sad that this law is required.” he remarked. It’s true, though.
Before the epidemic, he noted, very young children were in crisis, and their problems have become worse.
When a kid enters kindergarten, “the insufficiency of their preparedness for school is not properly recorded,” said Looney. It’s possible that some youngsters have never had the opportunity to read.” “This law is a statement of intent to take action against it.”
The extension of early-childhood education is one of the most essential aspects of the proposal for Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. He said that parents in his city had a difficult time locating pre-school options.
“There are simply not enough spaces, there are frustrated parents, and when kids go to school, those kids don’t have the chance that other kids had to ensure that when they come to kindergarten they are ready and prepared to learn,” Duff said. “That’s not right,” I said.
Duff emphasized the importance of the legislation’s expansion of school-based medical and mental health services. According to him, “We need to ensure that they are not just addressing medical and physical well-being but also covering mental health as well.”
At the beginning of the legislative session in February, both Democrats and Republicans agreed that children’s mental health problems were going to be a key topic of discussion.
“The fact is our children are 100-percent of Connecticut’s future,” he said. “They need services. We’ve identified that, and bills like this deliver those much-needed services.”
The 33-2 vote in the Senate moves the bill to the House of Representatives, which already has the previous Senate bill on its schedule. As part of a three-pronged approach to invest some of the surprisingly strong sales and income revenues, which have produced a $4 billion surplus in the fiscal year that runs through June 30, the House measure is awaiting Senate consideration.
Wolcott Republican Sen. Rob Sampson, along with Greenwich Republican Sen. Ryan Fazio, both voted against on the measure.