The fight for mental health funds for Charlotte-area schools

Charlotte-area school districts have been clarified. Students are suffering from mental health crisis and they need help.

CHARLOTTE, NC – Charlotte area school districts are struggling for new funding from the North Carolina General Assembly for mental health services.

Charlotte-area school districts have been clarified. Students are suffering from mental health crisis and they need help.

“It’s been raised by staff, it’s been raised by our students,” said Jennifer De La Jara, a member of the At-Large CMS Board of Education.

De la Jara said students have asked directly for more psychologists, social workers and counselors. She said recent numbers show CMS, like many other districts, lags behind national standards for mental health staffing.

The student-to-social worker ratio of the district is 1066 students per social worker. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends 250 students per social worker.

“School psychologists, it’s an even more serious situation, we’re at about 1 per 1,500 students, and we need to bring it down to 1 per 500 students,” de la Jara said.

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These positions are funded by money from the state budget and county dollars.

Let’s Talk Interactive, a Charlotte-based telehealth software company, said it saw a need to connect students with virtual mental health services.

“We have a shortage of mental health providers in this country. And it perpetuates geographic boundaries,” said Arthur Cooksey, founder of Let’s Talk Interactive.

When schools get enough funding, companies like this are waiting to step in.

“School systems have historically gotten full-time employees, or FTEs, if they’ve got the dollars and they want to put a body on a seat,” Cooksey said. “And in this case, we’re saying 8 schools, 10 schools, 12 schools, sharing resources for five to 10 bodies that are virtual bodies that can support 10 times the number of students currently supported “

Virtual care has been a lifeline for underfunded, small, and rural districts with access to mental health resources.

“Mental health in this country has, in some cases, six to eight week waiting lists to see someone, for our veterans, we have those kinds of things,” Cooksey said. “We have a lot of suicides in this country, it’s because of the gap in access to care.”

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Grants from the state and federal government are vital to maintaining some schools. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently awarded nearly $17 million in grant funding from the US Department of Education to help meet the mental health needs of students in the state’s public schools.

During the pandemic, districts used COVID-19 funding to help fund supplemental pay and new programs focused on mental health. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools used millions of dollars to improve the mental and social health of students.

This included increased pay for new positions, new programs, and positions related to student support.

“There’s a little bit of concern about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to replace the positions that we’ve been able to provide through the federal infusion of COVID money,” de la Jara said.

He said layoffs are possible in some positions, but there are other issues they are facing right now.

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“We have many positions that are unable to be filled simply because we do not have enough applicants. So we think a very important part of this equation is raising the salary to make the position attractive so that we have a large labor pool,” he said.

De la Jara said having enough funding for mental health is everyone’s concern.

“Students have been clear, teachers and administrators and school boards across the state have been clear, I cannot answer why our state legislators are not listening to that message,” he said.

He said it’s time for legislators to act and keep state dollars where they belong.

“I’ve heard some of them talk about it,” de la Jara said. “But this is one of those situations where we need to put our money where our mouth is and we need to see actual allocation of funding directly to local school districts to provide services to our students.”

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