Sunday, April 14, 2024

Virginia Child Advocates Calling for Increased School Funding

On average, school divisions across the country receive 14% more per student than those in Virginia, or about $1,900 more per student than Virginia. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Virginia child advocates are calling on state lawmakers to improve school funding.

The concern grew when several bills focused on building up school mental health failed in their respective General Assembly committees. The state is ranked 48th for youth mental health by Mental Health America.

Cat Atkinson, mental health policy analyst at Voices for Virginia’s Children, said given the ongoing youth mental health crisis, now is the time for action.

“Having mental health professionals in our schools creates a space where, one, our young people are able to be where they’re comfortable,” Atkinson recommended. “They have built relationships with staff and are able to be in their schools, and to be able to have their needs met in a place where they are consistently.”

The mental health staff funding bills failed or were continued to the 2025 session due to high costs. Combined, the bills would have called for around $120 million to be spent in the 2025 and 2026 budgets.

Beyond money, a long-term workforce shortage is depriving schools of having proper mental health staff. A KFF report found 48% of schools nationally have insufficient access to licensed mental health professionals.

The funding inconsistencies affect more than just mental-health services. A 2023 report found not only are school divisions getting less funding than most other states, but Virginia is still using the Great Recession as a benchmark for cost-reduction measures.

Atkinson pointed out a lack of funding affects not just schools.

“The trickle-down effect of our state underfunding public schools places a burden on the local communities,” Atkinson argued. “Which leaves the quality of our young people’s education to depend entirely on the neighborhoods they reside in.”

She added the current situation is not equitable because community resources across regions vary significantly, but noted there are other ways to get mental health care in schools.

In 2023, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1300, which requires teachers to get trauma-informed care training every three years. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Right Help, Right Now plan would also bolster school and community mental health needs.

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