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New comprehensive mental health positions proposed for Department of Education

Stress, anxiety, violence and behavioral issues are being reported in increased measure among the members of Minnesota’s educational community, particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suicide remains among the leading causes of death in Minnesota, particularly those ages 10-34.

And experts say often racism, bullying, and discrimination of any kind can manifest as mental health issues that are harder to detect.

Minnesota needs to be proactive in combating mental health issues before they result in self-harm to students, educators and support staff, Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview) and testifiers told the House Education Policy Committee — sometimes emotionally — Wednesday.

Moller sponsors HF1083 to establish two school mental health services leads in the Department of Education. They would help address mental health needs in schools for students, teachers and staff, and help schools assess their comprehensive mental health systems and develop improvement plans to implement evidence-based mental health resources, tools, and practices in school districts. The leads would coordinate with other state or federal agencies in their mission and report to the Legislature as necessary.

The bill was approved 13-4 and sent to the House Education Finance Committee.

Kristin Daniels, founder and CEO of CatapultEd said the problem needs to be solved with collaboration.

Referencing a 2021 survey, Katie Pekel, principal in residence at the University of Minnesota College and Education and Human Development, said the bill would help improve teaching, student engagement and learning environments while reducing staff burnout. 

A large number of educators have quit the field, largely because of stress and violence they experience around them, experts said. They say the bill would help take care of social and emotional development for all.

A fiscal note cites a $226,000 cost in fiscal year 2023 and $602,000 in the next biennium.

Rep. Patricia Mueller (R-Austin) rhetorically asked if schools would get any additional money from the Department of Education to deal with the mental health problems they face.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said clergy of any religious denomination could be tapped to give students a message of hope and help.

The companion, SF1882, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) is the sponsor.

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