House Democrats address mental health issues affecting Pennsylvania’s students

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By Sean Kitchen

January 19, 2024

The Pennsylvania House Education Committee held a series of hearings on mental health issues affecting students across the commonwealth and advanced three bills out of committee on Thursday.

Lawmakers on the Pennsylvania House Education Committee wrapped up two days of hearings focusing on helping students suffering from mental health issues, and they ended the hearings by passing a packet of bills doing just that.

“There is no question, Pennsylvania’s children need adequate mental health support to ensure they stay on their path of success,” House Education Chair Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) said in a statement.

“However, due to years of underfunding, school districts have faced provider and staffing shortages and as a result, students are left with insufficient programs and support. The hearings this week highlight both the importance of school based mental health support and the immediate need for them to help our children.”

Mental health specialists from schools across the commonwealth told legislators on Wednesday that more school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers are needed to cover the mental health needs for Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public school students.

“The American School Counselor Association recommends a student to school counselor ratio of 250-to-1,” Dr. Adam Oldham, a high school counselor in the Big Spring School District and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s (PSEA) School Counselor Section said in a statement.

“In Pennsylvania, the median ratio is 353-to-1. Half of all Pennsylvania school buildings have ratios higher than 350-to-1, with one of every 10 buildings having ratios of 500 or more students to a single school counselor.”

The House Education Committee advanced three bills to the House floor on Thursday and they include House Bill 1519, which would provide three mental health days per year for school students, House Bill 1553, which would add contact information for the national suicide hotline on school id cards and House Bill 1665, which would require schools to develop a comprehensive counseling plan and require school counselors to spend more time providing support for students.

HB 1553 passed out of committee by a unanimous vote, while HB 1519 and HB 1665 passed out of committee by party-line 14-11 votes.

The hearings were attended by long-time mental health advocate and the House Majority Chair, State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh). Schlossberg, who is open about his struggles with depression, founded the Mental Health Caucus in 2015 and worked to pass legislation expanding services to first responders.

“The rise in mental illness – combined with the chronic lack of investment in mental health – means that we need to do more. No more empty words or promises, Schloossberg said in a statement. “Let’s fund mental health treatment options in our schools.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | POLITICS

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