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EDITORIAL: More than symbolic: Funding needed for mental health workers in schools

Richmond Register - 3/24/2018

March 24--It's been called symbolic, but we hope House Bill 604 is more than that.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, would require at least one mental health professional for every 1,500 students in public schools -- if funding is available. Coursey represents Marshall County where two students were killed and 19 others injured in a shooting at Marshall County High School on Jan. 23.

"I cannot think of a single endeavor more important than this one. It will save lives and you cannot put a value on human life. Shame on us if we do not press the green (yes) button and pass this bill," Coursey said during debate as the bill passed the House with only one no vote. It is now in the Senate.

The biggest debate on the bill involved cost. Coursey conceded the bill has "an indeterminable cost," but also said the bill says "if funding is available."

We hope funding can be found as numerous lives are at stake.

House lawmakers talked about the problems many school-age children face, some from broken or abusive homes where many adults are unemployed or suffer from substance abuse. Others said existing guidance counselors are overwhelmed with other duties, from lunchroom supervision to counseling students on academic matters or how to apply for college and student aid.

Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, who chairs the Education Committee and teaches at Taylor County Schools, characterized the bill as "an early investment" and added "will never know how much it saves in the long term."

Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, noted many students "have no adult to talk to."

That's why the state needs to not only approve this measure, but find funding for it.

With cyberbullying and broken homes, students have few options. Mental health workers can be there to provide much needed support and reach out sooner rather than later.

Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, said "just sending our thoughts and prayers to the parents of children being killed by violence just isn't enough."

He's right.

Now, it's time to make sure there is funding for mental health in schools as passing this bill "just isn't enough."

House Bill 604 needs to be more than symbolic. It needs to happen to allow our youth to shine and to have a healthy future.

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(c)2018 the Richmond Register (Richmond, Ky.)

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