During last year’s legislative session, I wrote a piece concerning the desperate need for mental health support in schools following the reopening of schools after the pandemic. Fortunately, the Children’s Mental Health bill was passed, but unfortunately, we have not provided our schools with the necessary funding to implement these programs.
Well before the pandemic, educators knew that mental health and social emotional learning were essential for a successful educational experience. We saw already that mental health resources were lacking in many schools. We now know, through stories from teachers and students, that student’s needs for social emotional support have only increased in the wake of pandemic disruptions, and we’ve invested all kinds of resources to build capacity to meet those needs.
Educators everywhere are doing our best to address these additional needs alongside academic goals. Students and teachers are feeling the ramifications of not meeting all of these demands. Balancing these needs feels to many of us like a significant change in working conditions, causing high levels of frustration and burnout. This is not something that we can do alone. Our young people’s needs will continue to go unmet without shifting the priorities of our system and providing adequate staffing resources within our classrooms to rise to the challenge.
Connecticut schools are still suffering from a staffing shortage. There are staffing shortages in all positions throughout school districts, which creates a ripple effect that only increases the burden on the faculty and staff who do stay. The bottom line is that, to implement new mental health programs, we need more staffing. However, we cannot have more staffing without enough money for our schools.
H.B. 5003 is a proposed bill that will expedite the Education Cost Sharing phase-in formula and fully fund schools before federal dollars run out. This, in turn, will allow schools to keep current programming and staff, such as those that specialize in mental health. It will also allow schools to implement new programming that has been delayed due to a lack of funding, and to make new hires–such as support staff, social workers, and additional teachers–who are critical to the success of our students.
If we hope to give students the opportunity to achieve their potential, schools need to have the resources to hire more support staff. It’s the only chance schools have to take on the increased student need while continuing to prepare students for college and career. Schools with additional support staff have the greatest chance of improving outcomes for students and fostering a nurturing culture in the school as a whole. Meeting those needs at current staffing levels is not sustainable, and the staffing shortages are evidence of that.
Ultimately, the culture of our school system will need to adapt to better suit the needs of young people today. In addition to providing direct services in response to student needs, additional staff members with expertise in social emotional learning will be able to collaborate with other educators to examine how to prioritize resources and make changes to the system so that everyone is able to work and learn at their best.
While we have made great strides in mental health policies since the 2021-22 school year, how can we truly reach our goals if we are not supported by our state government and the ways in which they fund our schools?
The reality is that schools across Connecticut, especially those in underfunded districts, are soon going to face a fiscal cliff. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds will run out, and we will be left without the resources and staffing needed to implement the mental health and other student support programs we spent so much of last year fighting for.
By passing H.B. 5003, we are not only helping our students academically, but we will be providing them with social emotional resources that will stay with them for a lifetime as they become the leaders and teachers of the next generation.
I strongly urge Connecticut legislators to pass H.B. 5003 this legislative session.
Steven Tatum is a high school English teacher for Hartford Public Schools.