TERRE HAUTE – The failure of Indiana lawmakers to approve proposals during this year's legislative session that would have made mental health services eligible for school safety funding is a huge disappointment, education officials said.
Early in the session, Democratic state Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a high school math teacher from Terre Haute, introduced an amendment to a school safety bill that would have allowed school corporations to use safety or security subsidies to provide students with school-based mental health services.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers said substantial language involving mental health services was removed because of criticisms from conservative organizations and parent groups, the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star reported.
“I'm disappointed that we didn't put any real money into dealing with mental health issues this session,” Pfaff said. “We continue to talk about school safety, but we can't talk about it without talking about mental health and social-emotional wellness.”
Jennifer McCormick, the state superintendent of public instruction, said financial backing for mental health services didn't receive the attention it warranted.
“We were disappointed to see how the legislation ended up,” she said. “However, I have faith in our local schools that they are going to do what is right for kids” and provide access to needed services.
The apprehension of conservative groups related to the mental health legislation “had to do with parental consent,” said state Rep. Bruce Borders, a Republican from Jasonville. He said parents deserve to know what is being asked of their kids.
“That's where most of the battles came in, over parental consent on some of these evaluations,” Borders said.
Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said most of the school safety legislation prioritizes revamping building security and addressing threats, instead of prevention.
“They really didn't do an adequate job on the prevention side, addressing the social-emotional learning and mental health needs of students,” Spradlin said. “We've got more work to do in that area. ISBA will continue to be an advocate and bring forth some new ideas in future sessions to address those critical needs.”