Arizona schools facing uncertain future for mental health resources
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona lacks mental health professionals. In fact, the state currently ranks last in the country in terms of student-to-counselor ratio. An increase in state funding is starting to address the problem, but that funding could run out. That’s tough for Gilbert mom Nailah Hendrickson, whose son Zyon committed suicide last year, to digest. “You never get over the loss of a child ever,” Hendrickson said.
It’s been over a year since Zyon’s death. And still, Hendrickson questions if it could have been prevented. “I think about that with the schools, with the mental health system, and obviously with myself as a parent,” Hendrickson said. “There’s not a day that goes by where that doesn’t cross my mind.”
Since Zyon’s death, Hendrickson has pushed for more mental health resources in schools. And since April of 2021, $21 million of elementary and secondary school emergency relief dollars have led to more than 140 total school counselors and social workers in Arizona being hired. “We’ve heard they’ve done not just one-on-one counseling like you might think of with a traditional counselor,” Arizona Center For Investigative Reporting’s Maria Polletta said. “But also support groups for students, meetings with parents, trainings for teachers.”
But those emergency relief dollars are only approved to last through September 2023. Polletta says after that, nothing is guaranteed. “There has been some movement with dedicated grant funding focused on some of these positions,” she said. “But even the state grant program is on a three-year basis or three-year cycle. So that’s not permanent.”
Marisol Garcia with the Arizona Education Association is hoping that moving forward, the state will include more guaranteed funding for mental health resources as opposed to grants or relief dollars. “I do wish that as adults, we would make this a priority for our kids,” Garcia said. “It is a missed opportunity for that student to have a fully amazing educational experience.”
But Hendrickson isn’t confident state lawmakers will make mental health a priority anytime soon. “I think that we’re more focused on having great test scores and being able to say where we rank on graduations and sports,” she said. “But mental health has not been a priority and I don’t think it’s going to be unfortunately.”
The latest state budget has the potential for an additional $50 million (albeit via temporary grants). But lawmakers have said the Department of Education must prioritize requests for campus police officers before using any of that money towards counselors or social workers.
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