As the County Council wrapped up public hearings on the county’s proposed budget Wednesday night, education advocates pressed for more funding for student mental-health services.
County Executive Marc Elrich’s $5.7 billion budget plan trimmed $12.5 million from the school board’s funding request, money that educators said is needed as the school system looks to add psychologists.
Some hoisted signs that said “1 School=1 Psych #becauseumatter.”
Kevin Riley, co-president of the Montgomery County School Psychologists Association, said the current budget doesn’t fully fund three additional full-time psychologist positions requested by the school board for next year.
“It presently doesn’t include us, even though we offer legally-mandated services,” he said.
Riley said the school system estimates that eight additional psychologists are needed each year for the next five years to meet the goal of ensuring every school has one psychologist. He said this is essential in a society where one in five children has a mental health disorder.
“That’s what is needed to serve MCPS families,” he said.
Riley’s concerns were reiterated by Monique Ashton, who is the coordinator for the Richard Montgomery High School cluster of schools in Rockville.
“We need to make sure as we tout the programs, we provide the support. Otherwise they’re [programs] just shells,” she said.
Laura Stewart, the cluster coordinator for Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, said not fully funding the school budget would be a “moral hazard” because it would set back progress in closing the achievement gap and ensuring that immigrant families receive adequate support.
“If you are serious about closing this gap, you must fully fund the [fiscal year] 2020 BOE budget. Trauma is affecting every cohort, but especially children in poverty and immigrants. Addressing psychological, social and physical well being of children is needed to improve educational outcomes,” she said.
Tatiana Semionov, a European immigrant who came to Montgomery County in 2016, said she wants to see money in the budget for the school system open an international admissions office to help provide resources for immigrants. Semionov said getting the proper health professionals for immigrant children can be a challenge without being familiar with the community.
“It took me three years and an investment of $60,000 to figure out how to successfully settle here, how to find and get approved for comprehensive educational support for my neurodiverse child,” she said.
“The resources are wonderful, but they are hard to find for the newcomers,” she said.
The council’s committees are beginning deliberations on the budget and looking in-depth at spending priorities.
Council member Craig Rice, who chairs the council’s Education and Culture Committee, said funding the three school psychologist positions was a priority and noted that Col. Zadok Magruder High School sophomore Chloe Appel, who recently won Rice’s “council member for a day contest,” had written an essay on the need for better mental health services in schools.
“There’s a tremendous need, and I can assure you that in our deliberations in the council Education and Culture Committee, we will make sure we continue to increase the number of school psychologists,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com