ASSEMBLYMEMBER GONZALEZ-ROJAS, ELECTED OFFICIALS, NEW YORK STATE UNITED TEACHERS (NYSUT), AND ADVOCATES RALLY IN SUPPORT OF FUNDING AN INCREASE OF MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS IN SCHOOL DISTRICTS AMID YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
ALBANY, NY – Today, Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, elected officials, and advocates helped lead a rally to urge the Governor and legislative leadership to include funding for mental health professionals in school districts. Assemblymembers Chantel Jackson, Aileen Gunther, Chair of Assembly Committee on Mental Health, Sarah Clark, and Nathalia Fernandez, Manny De Los Santos, along with State Senators Robert Jackson, John Liu (Chair of Senate Committee of NYC Education), Peter Harckham, Rachel May, Luis Sepulveda and Brad Hoylman attended as well. The elected officials were joined by New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta, Albany Public School Teachers Association President Laura Franz, and members of the New York State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the New York Association of School Psychologists.
Supporting students' social-emotional needs is a pillar of NYSUT's Future Forward initiative.
At the rally, elected officials, union leaders, educators, mental health professionals, and advocates reiterated the urgent need for this investment. Students across the state are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis; the U.S Surgeon General recently declared a national emergency for child and adolescent mental health. At the same time, New York public schools, particularly in rural and high needs districts lack the funding necessary to meet this crisis head on. Attendees called on the Governor and legislative leadership to include the $40 million in the final Enacted Budget that the Assembly accepted in its one-house resolution so school districts can achieve this goal.
The attendees also called on legislators to pass A5019/S1969, sponsored by Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and Senator Robert Jackson, which would allocate one social worker and one psychologist to each school district to meet the mental health needs of students. Currently, there are still many school districts that do not have at least this minimal level of staffing. The bills would help several school districts which do not have mental health services to get closer to the recommended ratio by the National Association of Social Workers of one social worker to each school building serving 250 general education students and the 1:50 ratio for students with intensive needs.
“New York State must increase mental health services in schools. Our state’s current focus on curbing gun violence by young people and the federal government’s increased attention on the crisis of youth mental health only highlights this need. It is a tragedy that there are still school districts across our state that do not have at least one social worker and one psychologist to provide assessment, mental health services, and support to teachers. My legislation with Senator Jackson would begin to address this need and help to address the mental health needs of our students. We urge the Governor and legislative leadership to fund this proposal in the final Enacted state budget to meet this critical need,” said Assemblymember Jessica Gonález-Rojas.
Senator Robert Jackson said, "Social-emotional development and mental health play an enormous role in student wellness and academic success. Students, families, and educators are standing in unity, demanding the State fund mental health professionals in our public schools. School social workers and psychologists will help address the devastating impacts of a persisting pandemic, overcrowded schools, and poverty in working-class communities across the state. I am hopeful that we can deliver education justice in the lives of the most vulnerable New Yorkers in this year’s budget to support every school in providing a sound basic education!"
“Students thrive academically when their social and emotional needs are met,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said. “Every district needs proper staffing not only to get a handle on the current mental health crisis among our students, but also to provide the proactive support necessary to make sure every student is ready to learn. It’s critical that the funding districts need to start staffing up is part of the final budget,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said.
"School psychologists are seeing an exponential increase in the demand for mental health services in the schools. We need to invest in getting more school psychologists on the ground who can meet students' needs, both in schools and the community," said Natalie Partyka, Chapter J Chair of the New York Association of School Psychologists.
“We can no longer afford to disenfranchise our youth by failing to address their mental and emotional needs. It is our responsibility to create a holistic support system that nurtures students, not failing to act and perpetuating the cycles of trauma that have proven to be detrimental to their development, growth, and progression. This is an intergenerational issue, an intersectional issue, and an ideological issue. Our budget is a reflection of our priorities. Suppose we fail to address the funding for mental health in our schools. In that case, we will have failed to prioritize students' safety, security, and health through a perpetuation of a flawed system that concurrently instigates violence and insecurity,” said Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez.
“As New York’s students continue to struggle after the losses and disruptions associated with the pandemic, we must ensure our schools are equipped to address their unmet mental health needs. Many schools, particularly in rural and underserved school-districts, lack the resources to adequately meet the moment we are in. This legislation, which would guarantee students have a full-time licensed social worker and psychologist at their disposal, is a step toward ensuring the well-being and safety of all of New York’s students,” said State Senator Samra Brouk, Chair of the Senate Committee on Mental Health.
“At a time of a behavioral health crisis, more than 90% of public schools in the U.S. are not meeting the professional standard of one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students. If we want our students to succeed, then we have to stop failing them when it comes to the resources they need to step out into the world with emotional well-being and confidence,” said State Senator Peter Harckham.