The fight for mental health funds for Charlotte-area schools

School districts in the Charlotte area have been cleared. Students are experiencing mental health crises and need help.

CHARLOTTE, NC – School districts in the Charlotte area are battling for new funding from the North Carolina General Assembly to fund mental health services.

School districts in the Charlotte area have been cleared. Students are experiencing mental health crises and need help.

“It was removed by the staff, it was removed by our students,” said Jennifer De La Jara, member of the At-Large CMS Board of Education.

De La Jara said students are directly asking for more psychologists, social workers and counselors. He said the latest figures show that CMS, like many other regions, lags behind national standards for mental health personnel.

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

“School psychologists, the situation is even worse, we are about 1 in 1500 students and we need to reduce that to 1 in 500 students,” De La Jara said.

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

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

Arthur Cooksey, founder of Let’s Talk Interactive, said, “We have a shortage of mental health providers in this country. This is breaking down geographical boundaries.”

When schools receive adequate funding, companies like this are waiting to step in.

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

Virtual care has been a lifeline for underfunded, smaller and rural areas to access mental health resources.

“Mental health in this country is, in some cases, a six to eight week waiting list to see someone, we have that kind of thing for our veterans,” Cooksey said. “There are so many 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 for some schools to be able to cover the cost of maintenance. The North Carolina Department of Public Education recently secured approximately $17 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education to help meet the mental health needs of students in the state’s public schools.

During the pandemic, counties used COVID-19 funds to support salaries and new programs focused on mental health. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has used millions of dollars to improve the mental and social health of students.

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

“There is some concern about what we are going to do and how to change these positions that we are able to provide through the infusion of federal COVID money,” De La Jara said.

He said there will be possible wear on some positions, but there are other issues they are facing right now.

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“We have a few positions that can’t be filled because we don’t have enough applicants. So we think a very important part of that equation is to increase the salary to make the position attractive for us to have a larger labor pool,” he said.

De La Jara said that adequate funding for mental health is everyone’s concern.

“Students were clear, teachers and administrators were clear, school boards across the state were clear, I can’t answer why our state legislators didn’t hear this message,” he said.

It’s time for legislators to take action and put state dollars where they belong, he said.

“I’ve heard some people talk about it,” De La Jara said. “But this is one of the situations where we need to put our money where our mouths are, and we need to see direct allocation of funds to equip local school districts to provide the services our students deserve.”

Contact Shamarria Morrison at: [email protected] and follow it Facebook, twitter and instagram.

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