Martin M. Looney

Senate President Pro Tempore

Martin M. Looney

An Advocate for Us

February 15, 2022

Senate Democrats Announce “Healthy Students, Healthy Schools” Initiative

Legislative Priorities Will Support Youth Mental Health, Increase Health Services in Schools, and Expand Preschool

HARTFORD – Today, Senate Democrats announced the “Healthy Students, Healthy Schools” Initiative to support youth mental health, increase health services in schools, and expand preschool and childcare. The legislative proposals outlined in Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2 aim to further support children beyond the traditional public school system. Based on the recommendations of experts, task forces created from 2021 legislation, and “The Whole Child Initiative,” these proposals will strengthen the well-being and safety of Connecticut’s youth so every child is healthy, supported, and engaged, especially in light of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have received countless calls from parents and families sharing stories of the mental and emotional pressures that COVID-19 has placed on their children and grandchildren. We owe it to the next generation of Connecticut to make essential investments in their mental health and ensure that sufficient resources are readily available in their schools,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney. “We will increase support for the needs of all children, starting with the youngest in our state by expanding access to affordable, high-quality childcare and preschool.”

“Last year, we took decisive action to provide support to Connecticut’s youth and their families. Now, with the start of the new legislative session, we will build on that work by boosting mental health resources, increasing access to after-school programs, and making pre-K more readily available to families,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. “The safety and health of our families will continue to be the focus of Senate Democrats.”

“The trauma and heartache of the coronavirus pandemic has been acutely felt by the young people of our state. They have seen their parents lose jobs, family members become sick, and their entire social and school lives disrupted. As a state, we cannot fully recover from COVID-19 without investing in the well-being of Connecticut’s youth,” said Senator Doug McCrory, Senate Chair of the Education Committee. “This legislative session, we will make bold investments in student mental and social-emotional health, while working to ensure that youth are able to access the supports and resources they need from the pre-K to high school level.”

“In the last two years, we have learned so much about the challenges Connecticut faces,” said Senator Saud Anwar, Senate Chair of the Committee on Children. “The health and well-being of our children is one on which we cannot wait to act. Last year, my colleagues and I passed legislation focused on children’s mental health. This year we aim to go further by ensuring we are focused on the entirety of a child’s needs. That means we intend to protect childcare centers and childcare workers, expand pre-kindergarten learning opportunities, expand after-school programs and ensure children and parents are on the same page – and committed to a better future. We are also working on supporting our youth services bureaus so they can enhance their positive impact on the well-being of some of our youth.”

Senate Bill 1, An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools, includes proposals to:

  • Increase funding for social workers in schools
  • Use of Narcan training for school nurses and teachers, and provide Narcan to school districts
  • Mental health training for youth sports coaches, and provide mental health resources to athletes
  • Shift school start times for better youth health outcomes
  • Greater transparency for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference
  • Increase minority teacher recruitment
  • Cutting costs for towns on special education
  • Increase and expand school-based health centers

Senate Bill 2, An Act Expanding Preschool and Mental and Behavioral Services for Children, includes proposals to:

  • Extend access to affordable, high-quality child care and preschool, also ensuring that the staff of those programs are paid competitively
  • Increase access to mentoring, after-school programs
  • Greater supports for children and adolescents disconnected from school
  • Universal free pre-K at age 3
  • Enhancing families’ engagement in social, emotional and academic development
  • Increase access to virtual mental health services


Increase Funding for Social Workers in Schools

School social workers work to ensure that students have the support in-place to allow them to thrive academically, support social-emotional health and are in a safe environment. A mission that has grown in importance after the pressures inflected by the COVID-19 pandemic on students and their families. Senate Democrats are calling for an increase in funding to support and grow the number of social workers in schools so students can more greatly benefit from their life-changing work.

School social workers provide an array of services inside and outside the classroom according to the School Social Work Association of America including, but limited to:

  • Mental Health: Assist school districts in receiving support from social and mental health agencies, counseling for students and/or their families
  • Special Education and Helping Children with Disabilities: Participate in special education assessment meetings, compiling a social or developmental history on a student with a disability
  • Child Safety: Identify and report child abuse and neglect, provide crisis intervention
  • Personal Behavior and Social-Emotional Skills: Help with conflict resolution and anger management, assist students with developing their social interaction skills
  • Family Support: Provide case management for students and families needing multiple resources, advocate for improvements to school services

The value of these essential services has been underscored by the effects of the pandemic, but the need for them existed before then. High school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased to more than one in three students between 2009 and 2019, according to late 2021 advisory on youth mental health by the U.S. Surgeon General. The same advisory reported that suicide rates among youth ages 10 to 24 increased by almost 60% between 2007 and 2018.

The Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-CT) noted in a statement calling for more funds to expand school social work services that under one in five of the 12.5 million children in need of mental health services receive such support.

Increasing funding for school social workers would bring greater access to resources and services for students, while building on previous legislation approved by Senate Democrats. Last year, during the 2021 legislative session, Senate Democrats approved Senate Bill 2 (Public Act No. 21-46). The transformative legislation contained numerous provisions to support the health of students including: a new youth suicide prevention training program offered by school districts, students can take two mental health wellness days during the school year, and school lunch debt will no longer result in any punishment to a student.

Use of Narcan Training for School Nurses and Teachers, and Provide Narcan to School Districts

In response to the tragic death of a Hartford student due to an overdose on fentanyl, Senate Democrats seek to have all school nurses and teachers trained to use Naloxone and for the medication that reverses an opioid overdose to be supplied to school districts. The training and availability of the life-saving medication will prepare teachers and nurses to respond to a student experiencing an overdose. Some school districts have already taken steps to provide training. Both Hartford Public Schools and New Britain Public Schools announced they would provide Narcan training to teachers or nurses.

Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that can quickly restore regular breathing to a person who has slowed or stopped breathing due to an opioid overdose. Opioids can include fentanyl, oxycodone or “OxyContin,” heroin, hydrocodone or “Vicodin,” and codeine that can be found in some cold and cough medicines.

This legislative priority is the next step in Connecticut allowing for greater availability and training to use Narcan.

  • 2016 – Connecticut allowed health care professionals to administer Narcan to prevent overdoses
  • 2018 – A prescribing practitioner or pharmacist could enter in agreements with organizations such as law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, or community health organizations to distribute and train them on the use of Narcan
  • 2019 – Colleges and universities in Connecticut must have a policy on the availability and use of opioid antagonists by students and employees. The policy needs to include a designated medical or public safety professional to oversee the purchasing, storing, and distributing of opioid antagonists on campuses

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, fentanyl was the greatest drug involved in unintentional drug overdose deaths in the state between 2015 and 2021. Heroin, another opioid, was the third-leading cause. Connecticut saw an increase in overdose deaths year-after-year. There were 728 deaths in 2015, which peaked at 1,369 deaths in 2020. 474 young people between 15 to 24 years old were among those who lost their lives between 2015 and 2021.

Mental Health Training for Youth Sports Coaches and Provide Mental Health Resources to Athletes

In 2021, tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles brought global attention to the importance of mental health in sports. A health matter that has received less attention compared to the common understanding of the physical strain and pressure that athletes put their bodies through.

Senate Democrats join a growing movement for equalizing support to athletes in caring for both their physical and mental health. During the 2022 legislative session, they will advocate for youth sports coaches in Connecticut to receive mental health training and for student athletes to have greater access to mental health resources.The NCAA has backed similar efforts to expand access to mental health resources. The Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences participating in the 2019 NCAA convention adopted a policy that schools guarantee mental health services and resources to student athletes.Also, the urgency to protect the mental health of student athletes, and youth overall, has grown in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. An NCAA survey of college student athletes taken in spring 2020, during the height of the pandemic in the U.S., found that in most cases the rates of mental health concerns were 150-250% higher than previously reported in the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. In related findings:

  • 1 in 10 reported a sense of depression that made it difficult to function in their daily lives
  • Student athletes of color were among the highest to report mental health concerns

The survey highlighted the deep connection between athletes and coaches, including that they would look to their coaches for resources and support. That trust served as the underpinning of similar legislation proposed in Ohio in late 2021. The Ohio bill would require that school athletic coaches complete mental health training in order to supervise or direct a student athletics program.

Shift School Start Times for Better Youth Health Outcomes

Adolescents not getting enough sleep has been associated with several health problems including obesity, increased risk of anxiety and depression, and greater chances of having a stroke. Also, lack of sleep has been linked to lower academic achievement and impairments in attention and memory, according to the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Senate Democrats are advocating for school start times to be shifted later for high school students to allow a greater chance to get the recommended at least eight hours of sleep and reduce chances of health risks, a measure that is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Several school districts in Connecticut have explored or implemented re-organizing their school start times for students including Wilton in 2003 and Guilford in 2018. Also, West Hartford in 2020 passed a resolution calling on the Connecticut General Assembly to move the start of the school day to a later time after exploring whether to change start times in their school district.

The same year of West Hartford’s resolution, a bill for the Connecticut Department of Education to set up a working group to study issues with school start times was considered but stalled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shifting of start times has gained action in other parts of the U.S. In 2016, Seattle Public Schools reorganized their school start times with all high schools shifting to a later time in the morning. Also, California approved a law in 2019 moving back middle school and high school start times.

Greater Transparency for CIAC

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is the governing body for high school interscholastic sports in the state, has been in existence since 1921. The Board of Control that oversees the athletic organization says the board “reflects the diversity of Connecticut’s schools” when it comes to school size, location in the state, and type of school (ex. technical schools), but a closer a look at its membership roster shows the board does not reflect the gender makeup of Connecticut’s student athlete population or the racial diversity of the state population.

Out of the 28 members on the Board of Control, only five members are women or a little under 18% of the board. In comparison, 45% of student athletes in the state are female, according to the 2019 National Federation of State High School Associations report.

There is also underrepresentation when it comes to race on the Board of Control. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a little more than 12% of Connecticut’s population is Black and almost 17% of the state is Hispanic or Latino, and the board is not representative of people of color proportionate to the state’s demographics.

With this knowledge, Senate Democrats seek to implement greater reporting on the membership diversity of the Board of Control, in addition to athletic directors and coaches in Connecticut, who have a central role overseeing the health and safety of student athletes. With that reporting, Senate Democrats seek opportunities for athletes who are young women and people of color to see themselves represented in leadership, and for coaches to have opportunities for advancement.

Increase Minority Teacher Recruitment

Almost half of Connecticut’s student population are people of color. However, according to a report from Governor Lamont, people of color only make up at least 10 percent of the state’s teacher workforce. To breakdown this disparity, Senate Democrats are calling for an increase in funding for minority teacher recruitment and retention programs.

The recruitment, training, and support for a diverse teacher workforce will lead to improved academic achievement among all students, particularly students of color, as noted in an article published by the Education Commission of the States underscore that a diverse teacher population yields benefits that are seen by a student’s performance in the classroom, but also extends for years after.

Cutting Costs for Towns on Special Education

The State of Connecticut funds Special Education costs in two ways. First, a portion of the Education Cost Sharing formula is intended to cover special education costs. The second way is through the Excess Cost Grant. The Excess Cost Grant reimburses all districts for special education costs that exceed 4.5 times the amount the district spends on average for each student in the district.

Unfortunately, the state caps the amount of money budgeted for the Excess Cost Grant program forcing some districts to receive a pro-rated amount of the grant they are entitled to. In Fiscal Year 2020 for example, districts only received 71% of the money they were entitled to. The budget would need to include approximately $60 million in additional funding to fully fund the program.

Senate Democrats intend to address this lack of funding and some of the larger structural issues in how the state reimburses towns for special education costs.

Increase and Expand School-Based Health Centers

With more students needing aid, especially those falling behind as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting them with aid where they are is important. By increasing and expanding school-based health centers, which offer a variety of care options including primary care, mental health, health promotion and dental services, our state can better serve those in need in the schools they are learning in. These centers offer the services of licensed medical and behavioral health professionals with expertise in child and adolescent health, meeting the needs of children while they are actively being enriched and educated. This could be done with an adjustment to the municipal aid school-based health clinic line in the budget.

School-based health centers provide financial savings to children and their families by reducing loss of time and productivity for parents who would otherwise need to leave work; they provide services to patients and their families at reduced costs; and SBHCs prevent unnecessary emergency department visits and unintended presidencies. These centers have positive benefits on prenatal care and pediatric chronic conditions, with 84% offering vision screening and 20% offering oral health exams. They are associated with improved academic outcomes including improved GPAs and reduced rates of suspension; SBHCs even have been shown to reduce depressive episodes and suicide risk among adolescents.


Expand Child Care and Preschool

Senate Democrats plan to extend access to affordable, high-quality child care and preschool, also ensuring that the staff of those programs are paid competitively. This will ensure a strong start for children at the beginning of their developmental processing, helping them achieve more during their lives. It relates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority of ensuring children receive strong starts, and fights the child care struggles of parents during times of high COVID-19 community spread. During the peaks of the pandemic, many parents had to choose between work and their child’s safety/learning. This is relief for them.

Every year, working parents lose on average $3,350 in lost earnings, reduced productivity and lost time looking for work when their children don’t have adequate child care. Businesses lose $1,150 annually per working parent in lost revenue and added recruitment costs; taxpayers lose $630 in income and sales tax revenue. From 0-3, these losses can add up to $9,000 for families over three years and $2,270 per taxpayer. Close to two-thirds of parents experiencing child-care problems report losing time or focus at work; almost one in ten reported significant job disruptions including demotion, transferring, firing or leaving a job.

Early childhood workers are responsible for a significant number of supports for children – they deserve to be treated well and to be supported so they can provide high-quality care and education, and be compensated well for the important work they do, not only to bolster their spirits but to draw more workers to childcare and bolster program efficacy.

The average childcare worker in 2020 – before the COVID-19 pandemic began – earned just $11.65 per hour. Only 20% of the country sees early childhood workers able to earn enough to cover basic needs; if they have at least one child, they do not earn a living wage in any of the United States. The early child-care industry is overwhelmingly female, largely staffed by Black, Asian or Latino workers and said they’ve faced threats of layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts since the pandemic started.

Increase Access to Mentoring, After-School Programs

Directly in line with the need to expand children’s access to early childhood care, these programs will provide older children with significantly enhanced access, knowledge and awareness of and to potential careers, interests, hobbies – and away from potential harm. The Judicial Branch and Department of Children and Families provide opportunities to children in those systems – this recommends they be expanded, so youth both no longer involved with those systems and youth who have not been involved in those systems. This recommendation is in line with the Department of Public Health’s goals of increasing opportunities for equitable and affordable education on career development and personal finance.

More than 40% of students who attend after-school programs like 21st Century Community Learning Center programs improved their reading and math grades, with more frequent attendance correlating to boosts in academic performance. Afterschool programs improve school day attendance and participation, reduce school dropout rates, foster developmental relationships that decrease risky behaviors and provide working parents with increased stability.

Greater Supports for Children and Adolescents Disconnected from School

Greater resources need to be invested in supporting children and adolescents disengaged or disconnected from school. Disengaged youth who miss at least 25 days of school in a year, have at least two suspensions or expulsions and/or fail at least two or more courses per year need direct intervention and support. Disconnected youth are more likely to experience health challenges, substance abuse, are more likely to be Black or Hispanic, have an unemployment rate 2.5 times the rate of other young people in Connecticut, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than peers who graduate high school and draw almost four times more state funds over time. Helping disengaged and disconnected youth can lead to stronger schools, higher employment, fewer individuals incarcerated or struggling with addiction, healthier communities and higher rates of economic growth.

Investing in student re-engagement means investing in additional educational venues, including alternative ones compared to traditional schools; deploying and aligning workers to enhance outreach to disengaged students; launching back-to-school campaigns and other elements that will aid students to return; and understanding the youth mindsets that lead to said disengagement and reapproaching how they are met. Successful programs to aid these students include ones with opportunities for paid work and financial incentives; linking education, training and the job market; and comprehensive support services. Programs should focus, among others, on skill development to aid these youths in the future.

Universal Free Pre-K at Age 3

Children’s earliest years are critical to their overall development and are crucial for academic, social and vocational success. Universal free pre-K would provide key support to mitigate adverse childhood experiences and would be beneficial to future academic, social and vocational success. Further, it would serve to help close gaps between children whose parents have higher income educational attainment versus those with lower rates, which normally exacerbate existing inequalities in childhood development and eventual academic and economic outcomes. These investments further will benefit the economy, from allowing more parents to rejoin the workforce to preserving earnings and providing families with more capacity for spending.

A study of a preschool program that allowed 4,000 children access in Boston found that preschool has a huge positive effect on kids – they were less likely to be suspended, less likely to skip class, less likely to get in juvenile trouble, more likely to take the SATs and more likely to prepare for college. Kids accepted in preschool had a 6% higher rate of graduation from high school and an 8% higher rate of going to college after graduation. However, students did not perform better on standardized tests; it’s believed that preschool related to development of discipline and motivation.

Enhancing Families’ Engagement in Social, Emotional and Academic Development

As social and emotional learning becomes more common, helping students learn and engage with themselves as a whole, these concepts can also benefit their families. The Department of Probation offers a family engagement initiative, allowing entire families to learn more about the interconnected nature of their social and emotional capabilities; by taking a similar program and allowing families to participate, the families of youth participating and those who have not been involved with such projects can learn to better engage in their children’s and adolescents’ overall growth and development.

Children with highly involved parents see enhanced social functioning and fewer behavioral problems. Parent involvement can enhance children’s behavior at home and in the classroom. Family-school interventions on children’s social-behavioral competence and mental health correlate directly to positive outcomes in interpersonal processes and behavioral supports, among others.

Increase Access to Virtual Mental Health Services

PSYPACT is an interstate compact allowing licensed psychologists to practice telepsychology and conduct temporary in-person face-to-face practice of psychology across state boundaries, allowing for additional psychologists to service Connecticut residents during a time of strain on current systems. PSYPACT will allow continuity of care for residents who may relocate; they can also reach the underserved, the isolated and those without specialty care, further ensuring psychologists have met defined standards to practice in other states.

Connecticut would join the 26 other states that have already joined the PSYPACT compact and would aid the state in better ensuring medical aid for those in need, especially for specialists who may not be easy to schedule with. Care for important conditions, including addiction to fight the continuing opioid crisis and mental health care for the one-in-four U.S. adults who have mental illnesses, will be more readily accessible. Connecticut healthcare professionals including the Connecticut Psychological Association support the adoption of PSYPACT in its certification of individuals meeting acceptable standards of practice, its facilitation of better continuity of care and its enhanced access to necessary mental health care.

Senate Democrats will look to join PSYPACT in order to meet the demand for mental health services for our children.