It’s been a little over a week now, so students and parents should be getting back in the groove of another school year. I hope it is a happy and successful year for everyone!

I spent this past legislative session working on a variety of education-related legislation that I believe will make our students and our schools safer and more successful this year. Here are a few highlights:

Increased state funding for West Hartford schools. West Hartford is well-known for its public schools; it’s one of the reasons why our town is so attractive to young families and new home buyers. I wanted to do everything in my power to ensure that we continue this great tradition of excellence, and the new state budget that I voted for does that. The entire West Hartford legislative delegation worked to ensure that West Hartford received an additional $1.16 million in Education Cost Sharing funds this year compared to last year — that’s nearly $22 million in state ECS funding each year.

Did not pass along teacher pension costs to towns. At one point in the session there was talk of asking towns to pay for a portion of their teacher pension costs (the State of Connecticut has paid this cost for towns for almost 100 years). That would have cost West Hartford residents more than $500,000 in the local town budget. Fortunately, that pension cost-sharing idea did not have any legislative support — including from me — and so it failed.

Passed a tough smoking/vaping bill. This past session the legislature raised Connecticut’s smoking age — and therefore raised the age at which someone can purchase vaping or tobacco products — from 18 to 21. This legislation was part of a push to counteract the increase of youth smoking, especially youth use of tobacco vaporizers or “vapes” which the U.S. Surgeon General has called an “epidemic.” You might recall that last winter I hosted an informational forum in teen smoking at Hall High School in West Hartford. Weeks later I was at Conard High School in West Hartford, and by now parents were demanding that the state take action on what they saw as a public health crisis. This new law raising the smoking age and limiting access to vaping products represents state government at its best: collaborating, working together, and coming up with a solution that the public has demanded.

Expanded African American and Latino studies in public schools. Very early in the session I spoke at a public hearing in favor of a bill to add African-American and Puerto Rican and Latino studies to the required programs of study for all public schools, and to require local school boards to include these topics in their curriculum beginning with the 2021-22 school year. It’s critical that we honor past contributions from all people, especially those who have been overlooked and undervalued. This bill passed the Senate on a unanimous and bipartisan basis, and I’m proud to say I was an early supporter.

Connecticut Media Group