BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Across the state in Albany, Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled her proposed state budget for next year.
A big topic these days is what to do with the mental health of kids in schools?
The governor is proposing millions of dollars to help children in this area.
As part of her overall message on mental health — the governor is proposing 1,000 beds for inpatient psychiatric treatment, 3,500 new housing units and $10 million to expand mental health care programs in schools. Many school districts have their own school psychologists, social workers, and school counselors and many districts have seen an increase in referrals to counseling programs.
For example, Grand Island Schools had more 75 students referred to counseling agencies last school year, a big jump for them from the previous year. Here’s what the governor had to say during her address:
“Society has to stop ignoring the fact that our kids are suffering what they went through the pandemic the isolation, being away from their norms, their classes, their friends, right now too many schools in our state provide little or no mental health support for these children,” Hochul said.
On Wednesday, the governor also spoke about fully funding public education. That’s very reassuring to districts, especially Buffalo Public Schools, which still has one very large piece of the puzzle that’s still missing — the cost of a contract settlement with the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation. At this point, there is a budget shortfall in Buffalo Schools of nearly $40 million.
The state budget is supposed to be approved by April 1.
Meanwhile, New York State Attorney General Letitia James is reviewing the mental health system statewide.
We also heard from Michael Cornell, the president of the Erie Niagara School Superintendents Association. He says the additional money on mental health is very much needed because many school districts have hired their own mental health care workers and costs related to those services are expected to rise.
“Perhaps money that the governor puts in this budget and any subsequent money that the Legislature puts in it will maybe create a little bit more equity across school systems in terms of having the resources to provide those services to children and family through the school,” Cornell said.
Separate from school funding, the governor says this budget will not raise income taxes.
The Campaign for Healthy Minds, Health Kids released this statement in response to Hochul’s announcement on funding for mental health care in schools:
“The Campaign for Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids applauds Governor Hochul for recognizing the urgent need to increase investments in New York’s mental health care system, including investments in the types of behavioral health resources children and families need to thrive.
For too long, children and families have struggled to get the life-saving mental health services they need, and we are pleased the governor included critical investments in her Executive Budget proposal that will enhance children’s mental health programs across the state. The governor’s commitment to invest an additional $12 million in the HealthySteps program and Home Based Crisis Intervention Teams, $10 million in grants for suicide prevention programs for youth, $10 million to develop school-based clinics, and $5 million to expand high-fidelity wrap-around supports are clear steps forward and will help ensure more children and families can access the behavioral health resources they desperately need. We also applaud the administration’s commitment to boost funding across the continuum of care by including a 2.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment for voluntary operated providers and to enhance insurance coverage of mental health services.
However, the behavioral needs of children and families in our State are vast, and it is urgent to allocate significantly more behavioral health funds for upstream supports for children and adolescents. This includes addressing access challenges and long waitlists by investing in reimbursement rates that match the cost of care, as well as workforce solutions. We look forward to working with the Governor, the New York State Senate and New York State Assembly to continue enhancing and strengthening our state’s mental health care system for children and families.”
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.