July 1, 2022: Finance Committee hears mental health testimony; Abbott allocates money to school safety, mental health
Publish Date: July 1, 2022 2:43 pm Author: Texas AFT
Senate Finance Committee hears testimony on state mental health services
Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC) Presiding Officer Dr. David Lakey testifies in front of the Senate Finance Committee on the state of the consortium.
The Senate Finance Committee convened for over 7 hours this past Tuesday to discuss and accept public testimony relating to the state’s mental health services. While the hearing was called to reevaluate mental health services generally, much of the conversation revolved around child mental health services specifically, especially the services offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC).
The TEA testified that they had awarded grants to fund mental health programs to all 20 of their regional service centers. Over the past 10 years students have felt on average more sad and hopeless in their lives and that more students have considered suicide, according to student survey data. The TEA cited these numbers as warning signs and acknowledged that these widespread mental health issues inevitably affect students’ ability to function in the classroom.
In response to this data, the TEA has hired more mental health professionals across the state, but the numbers of mental health professionals still aren’t at adequate student ratios for most classifications. For example, the Texas counselor to student ratio is 394:1, whereas the recommended ratio is 250:1.
The TEA did address the Uvalde shooting directly and cited increased efforts to spot warning signs, but the agency representative stated that the vast majority of those needing mental health resources are non-violent.
TCMHCC was founded by the legislature in 2019 partly in response to the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School to address youth mental health needs. Two of the primary services offered by TCMHCC are the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) and Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN).
TCHATT connects public school students with mental health professionals via phone and video meetings in order to assess the students’ behavioral and mental health needs and direct them to the appropriate mental health resources. TCHATT is administered by public school districts, and currently is available in 365 school districts, covering over 2.2 million students (or 42% of Texas public school students), according to TCMHCC.
CPAN offers training and consultation to primary care providers to help them identify and treat mental health issues in young patients. Pediatricians interested in receiving CPAN services can register with TCMHCC, and then are able to call CPAN whenever they require training or consultation.
TCMHCC Presiding Officer Dr. David Lakey testified that TCMHCC spends roughly $3,505 per campus per year on TCHATT resources. Dr. Lakey also testified that TCMHCC expects that TCHATT will be expanded so that all school districts who want access to TCHATT will be provided the service by September 2023.
Governor Abbott Announces $105.5 million allocation for school safety, mental health
Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would be transferring $105.5 million to support school safety and mental health initiatives through August 31, 2023. $5.8 million, less than 5.5% of the transfer, will be sent to TCHATT’s statewide initiatives and only $4.7 million, less than 4.5% of the transfer, will be sent to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to provide care to at-risk youth. Less than a million dollars was allocated to HHSC to provide early treatment for patients experiencing psychosis. These three appropriations, only roughly 10% of the total transfer, constitute the only portion of the funds that will go directly toward mental health care initiatives.
The funds were specifically designed to address the tragedy in Uvalde, yet the majority of the funds are directed toward security measures that would not have prevented the shooting. Nearly half of the funds, $50 million, are being used to purchase bullet resistant shields for law enforcement officers, and $17.1 million was allocated to school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology. A full description of how these funds will be allocated is included in the Governor’s press release.
TEA Provides Update to Reading Academies Implementation
On Thursday, TEA announced several important updates to the HB 3 reading academies in an attempt to streamline their implementation and completion. First, teachers with advanced understanding of the science of reading instruction may avoid having to complete a full 12-module academy through a new demonstrated proficiency option. Educators who have earned the STR certification will be able to complete a shorter version of the reading academies. Mathematics teachers who have passed the STR exam may request a waiver for Texas reading academies. And participants with extenuating circumstances will continue to have additional time to complete academies.
TEA also claims that content has been streamlined to ensure actual seat time reflects projected seat time. Teachers can work with their district or provider to determine if any of these options will help them complete these onerous requirements. Please keep Texas AFT updated on the effectiveness of these changes. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas Commission on Special Education Receives Public Testimony
This week, the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding met in Austin for its fourth hearing to receive invited testimony from specialized campuses, including Texas School for the Deaf and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, rural school districts, and non-profit organizations related to the financial challenges in providing necessary services to our students with special needs.
In addition to naming what are now common complaints about the burden of Reading Academies and other unfunded mandates, these specialty school leaders spoke of the difficulty in finding these highly specialized teachers (e.g. bilingual in ASL or VI certification).
These training programs are limited by funding or closing and the inability to pay the salary necessary to locate in Austin metro where both TSD and TXBVI are located. They also emphasized the need for more and continued funding for capital needs and for their residential programs and outreach operations like Regional Day School Programs for the Deaf (RDSPD) and the TXBVI technical assistance program.
Supreme Court Delivers More Decisions Impacting Education
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided two notable cases related to public education: Houston Community College System v. Wilson, pertaining to freedom of speech
and workplace retaliation and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, complicating the nation’s longstanding commitment to separation of church and state.
Board Trustee David Wilson sued the Houston Community College System (HCC) because he faced censure and sanctions following criticisms he raised towards other trustees. The Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision in favor of HCC. The court held that elected bodies do not violate the first amendment when they censure their members..
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach who was fired for his conduct regarding post-game prayer at the 50-yard line. The court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, argues that Kennedy’s action is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. In dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that Gorsuch’s argument “elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all”.
Your Input Needed: Solving the Crisis in Our Public Schools
This spring, Texas AFT invited educators across the state to several in-person and virtual focus groups hosted in partnership with Battelle for Kids.
The feedback from those focus groups has been invaluable in helping us develop real solutions to the actual crisis in our schools: retaining qualified teachers and staff.
Whether you were able to attend or not, we would like to hear from you. We encourage educators across Texas to take our quick, 10-minute survey and help us delve deeper into what educators want and need to improve both their working environment and their students’ learning environment.
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