Mental health figures into Pennsylvania’s education funding

  • By Brooke Schultz/The Associated Press/America Report

Jessuca Kourkounis / Crossroads of Main Streets

Amid a growing population of young people experiencing mental health crises, as well as another wave of mass shootings across the country, Pennsylvania lawmakers are prioritizing mental health services in this year’s budget by approving for the first time saw a $100 million school support item. .

Referring to the recent tragedies in Texas and Illinois, Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, said that through the funding, the state will try to tie mental health and safety and security together “so there aren’t people falling through the cracks.”

Each school district in the state will receive $100,000 in base grants, and charter school entities will receive $70,000.

In addition, the state’s Safety and Security fund, which was created in 2018 to improve physical school security after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will also receive $100 million. The funds have historically been used to improve security — including adding cameras, secure entrances and staffing to school buildings.

For educators, addressing mental health is necessary to make sure kids are in a good place to learn, said John Callahan, chief advocacy officer for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. State funding will help schools address mental health proactively and proactively, as a way to engage students before it rises to the level of a crisis.

Callahan said school districts have addressed mental health needs in a variety of ways, including increasing the number of school counselors and school psychologists, who can be costly with salaries and benefits. Others rely on outsourcing these services, including one district that uses a telephone service to provide support to students.

Many school districts, he said, also work closely with their county’s behavioral health services. But with staff strain at the district level, service waiting time can stretch to three weeks.

Bucks County’s mobile crisis unit, for example, was “destroyed over the course of the pandemic” and was operating at significantly reduced capacity, according to Donna Duffy-Bell, administrator of Bucks County Health/Behavioral Development Programs.

“I’m sure the schools, as well as the general community, felt the impact of that limited capacity,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s need for more mental health support has grown in recent years.

According to data from the Department of Human Services, in 2021, youth crisis hotlines, mobile crisis response teams and crisis centers across the country all saw an increase in the number of people seeking care during the year. passed.

Additionally, 40% of Pennsylvania students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 surveyed in 2021 said they felt sad or depressed most days in the past year – a slight increase over the 38% of students who were surveyed in 2017 and 2019.

More children also seriously considered suicide or planned suicide in 2021 compared to the previous two years of the survey and reported that self-harm also increased. The data, collected by state agencies every two years from 1,908 eligible schools, reflects what officials say is a growing trend of increasing mental health problems among Pennsylvania’s youth.

“We know this is going to be an ongoing collective effort,” said Monica Stefanik, director of children’s services for Bucks County. “We continue to see growth and want to come together as a community to support young people on many levels. This will help improve mental health over time if we all work together.”

In addition to mental health funding for schools, lawmakers also appropriated $42.6 million for county mental health offices that provide behavioral health services at home and in the community.

Another $100 million in federal aid funds will support behavioral health care for adults.


Marc Levy contributed reporting. Brooke Schultz is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Brooke Schultz at I tweet.

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