The conference committee working to resolve differences in the omnibus education finance and policy bill kicked off proceedings Monday, not with a side-by-side walkthrough of the House and Senate versions, but with testimony on the importance of mental health of students and staff.
The walkthrough of HF4300*/SF4113 is planned Tuesday, said Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes). He sponsors the bill with Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).
Students’ mental health and well-being have been recognized as a long-term concern, and investments are needed to make mental health support services available to all, Davnie said.
Chamberlain said mental health issues were a challenge even prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, due to the preponderance of social media that has been known to abet anxiety, depression and potentially suicidal tendencies among students.
He said it is important to stabilize, normalize and quickly tackle potential risks of social media for the sake of improving education.
The House bill would address shortages of school support personnel that benefit students’ social, emotional and physical health. It would allow schools to hire more than 1,000 additional counselors, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and chemical dependency specialists, and would require the Department of Education to employ two school mental health services leads to address mental health needs of students, teachers, and staff. The Senate bill does not have the provisions.
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The House bill would also provide $2.5 million a year for school social workers to help support young children experiencing mental health issues and their families, and the workers themselves, who often are paid low wages with minimal benefits, said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).