Legislation Expanding Mental Health

A huge thank you to legislators for passing legislation to expand mental health in our schools. There’s lots of good stuff reported here by Erica Meltzer at Chalkbeat regarding what Colorado legislators are willing to support. Much of it is long overdue.

https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/06/colorado-bill-to-expand-mental-health-first-aid-training-for-teachers-moves-forward/

The Safe2Tell bill “unanimously passed the House Ed…The bill changes how calls are handled…and creates an annual advertising campaign to raise awareness about the tip line.”

Most importantly, is the attention legislators give to training educators for mental health.  State Senator Rhonda Fields hit the mark when she said “Our educators are on the front lines”.  This just goes to underscore the point that we don’t pay any of our “educators” enough.  We no longer expect them to simply teach Literature, Math, or History, but they now need to be mental health workers too.  Actually, in many instances they already are, whether they want to or not; but this bill will provide the training many are and have been begging for.  It’s not just teachers who need this training, but anyone in our school buildings (or buses) who work or cross paths with students.

Teachers and school staff already doing the work of mental health specialists in most of our districts just goes to highlight the fact that we have literally starved our schools. (But we’ve been saying that for so long it’s become white noise.)

Recently, when we were testifying before the Senate Ed Committee on behalf of Educator Bill SB 089, one of the members of the committee implied the funds were there, but he could not trust district leadership to prioritize it appropriately.  We would like to remind that senator that the Budget Stabilization Factor is still OVER HALF A BILLION DOLLARS.  Since the Great Recession, we have underfunded our public schools to the tune of almost $8 Billion. Colorado still spends more than $2,000 per pupil LESS than the national average, and we still rank last in the nation in what we pay our teachers.

Like it or not, districts still have to focus on standardized tests; take an immense amount of staff time (administration and teaching staff) for incredibly time consuming and ineffective teacher evaluations; struggle to meet the needs for Special Education students (on which the Federal government has long shorted us funding), or the needs of our English Language Learners.  They need to train staff for emergency situations and then make sure students are ready if their school undergoes a lock down, lock in, or targeted by an armed intruder; and then be the mental health specialist many students will turn to in order to deal with the trauma, let alone staff dealing with the trauma.

So when districts can’t offer a competitive wage for teachers to begin with, how do they attract teachers knowing many will need to function as a mental health specialist too, or find the funds to pay for the mental health specialist staff they need?   “Many Colorado schools don’t have a full-time mental health worker of any kind.”  In rural Colorado, multiple districts might share one mental health specialist.

How do districts really pay an educator for everything we now expect of them?

Our legislators can’t increase revenue on their own, (they would need to refer a ballot measure to voters).  Only Colorado voters can approve tax increases.  We (Colorado voters/taxpayers) need to decide what our real priorities are, and then follow that up with actions not just lip service.

“They say, if you want to know what a community values, look at how its children are treated.  If you want a sense of what a community hopes for the future, look at how it values its schools.”