Senate Approves Student Health Services Expansion and Child Care Support Bill

Senator Haskell Votes To Bolster Youth Mental Health Services, Support More Social Workers in School and Help Child Care Providers


Today, State Senator Will Haskell [D-Westport] joined the Senate to vote for Senate Bill 1, “An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools.” Senate Bill 1 takes a thorough approach to supporting youth from their early years through high school. The expansive legislation would build up necessary infrastructure – including school personnel, child care and school-based student resources– to support the needs of the whole child. Further, it responds to the impact that COVID-19 has had on young people, from exacerbating the youth mental health crisis to student disengagement.

"There is no investment we can make that’s more important than the health and safety of Connecticut children," said Sen. Haskell. "After all, they are quite literally the future of this state. I’m so grateful to work with champions like Sen. McCrory and Sen. Anwar, and I was proud to vote for providing students with the resources they need to thrive. This bill improves student mental health services, bolsters early childhood education, and supports Connecticut’s incredible teachers in reconnecting with kids who have fallen behind in their education. Connecticut kids deserve this bill, and more."

Senate Bill 1 would take numerous actions to increase resources and programs available to support children, teenagers, and schools including:

Expanding Student Access to Mental Health Services and Resources for Schools

  • Provides $10 million in needs-based grants for improving and expanding services at current school-based health centers. All 36 health centers and 124 schools identified by the state Department of Public Health in need of greater services will be eligible to apply
  • Create a grant program for boards of education administered by the Connecticut Department of Education to hire and retain more social workers, psychologists, nurses, and counselors in schools

Increasing Wages for Child Care Workers and Improved Access to Early Childhood Education for Families

  • $70 million to fund a new child care and early childhood education worker salary enhancement grant to be administered by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC)
  • Nearly doubling the number of infant and toddler spaces in child development centers across Connecticut from currently about 1,500 to around 2,800 spaces. Also increases to $13,500 the rate provided by the OEC per infant and toddler space in these centers

Enhance School Preparedness to Respond to a Student Opioid Overdose

  • Boards of education will be provided information on how to acquire no-cost opioid antagonists, like Narcan, by Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection and Department of Education
  • Pharmacists and prescribing practitioners can dispense opioid antagonists to board of educations and school district employees will be trained on proper use and handling
  • There must be at least one qualified school employee who can administer an opioid antagonist in the event a school nurse is not available

Supporting Connecticut’s Teacher Workforce

  • The state Department of Education will study and identify ways to streamline and improve pathways for teacher certification
  • Establishes a teacher shortage and retention task force
  • $1 million for a new minority teacher candidate scholarship program. The scholarships will be available to graduates of a priority school district and are enrolled in a teacher preparation program at a four-year higher education institution in Connecticut

Bolstering Education Opportunities, Student Engagement, and Inclusivity

  • $7 million for the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP), which helps students struggling with absenteeism and disengagement
  • The state Board of Education will administer a “career and technical pathways instructor permit” to individuals with training or expertise in manufacturing, allied health, computer technology, engineering, or construction in order to teach a class related to their expertise. The permit will be issued following the request of a local or regional board of education or regional educational service center
  • Adds Asian American and Pacific Islander studies to the state curriculum for students
  • Establishes an Open Choice school program between Guilford and New Haven
  • Create separate task forces on combatting ableism in school-settings, and the governance structure and internal procedures of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC)

According to a 2021 advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased to more than one in three students between 2009 and 2019. The same advisory found that suicide rates among youth ages 10 to 24 increased by almost 60% between 2007 and 2018. This crisis in mental health among youth has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a third of high school students reported having “poor” mental health during the pandemic in 2021, according to a CDC survey of high school students. The survey report underscored that the negative impact of poor mental health extends into other areas of a person’s life including academic performance struggles and increased risk of drug use.

Over 480 young people in Connecticut have lost their lives due to an unintentional drug overdose since 2015, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Fentanyl, an opioid, was involved in over 370 of these overdoses. One life lost is too many and these statistics emphasize the need for schools to strengthen their ability to respond to a student experiencing an opioid overdose.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of young people both during and outside of school hours, especially when it came to child care. 21% of child care centers closed due to the pandemic, according to CT Voices for Children. The job sector that provides a critical support to children during their early years of growth and development, along with helping parents balance work and family, has been hampered in recovering from the pandemic because of struggles to hire and retain workers. An early 2022 poll by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance of more than 120 providers found that almost 90% reported difficulty hiring staff. The low pay given to child care employees, who are among the lowest-paid workers in the nation, has been a major factor in the difficulty to hire and keep employees.