School security, mental health funding receive boost in latest state budget

·2 min read

Jul. 15—The 2022-23 state budget recently approved by the General Assembly includes a significant increase in security and mental health funding for Schuylkill County schools.

The budget will allocate an additional $100 million for mental health support and $100 million on physical safety and security enhancements for schools in Pennsylvania.

The increased funding comes in the wake of recent school shootings, including the one in Uvalde, Texas.

State Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp., chairman of the Majority Policy Committee, has held several recent roundtable discussions addressing the issue of school safety.

"I'm thankful this critical funding is coming to our region to ensure our schools are safe, especially after the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year," Argall said in a news release. "Just a few years ago, Gov. (Tom) Wolf proposed providing $0 for school safety measures. We've shown him just how important these dollars are."

Gregory S. Koons, executive director of the Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, said the IU will use part of its new funds to hire a school resource officer.

"It's so that we have a police presence and enhanced security here for the benefit of our students," he said. The school has not employed a resource officer in several years.

The IU is also considering enhancing its security camera system, Koons said.

The mental health portion of the funding will allow the IU to operate two software solutions — Rhithm and ReThink Ed — vital to the school's promotion and teaching of mental health awareness.

The programs will be completely funded by Schuylkill County Mental Health and Developmental Services for the upcoming school year.

Koons said county school districts will likely use part of their mental health funding for similar ventures, such as software solutions and professional development.

He noted that, at the IU, there is a focus on improving the mental health and wellness of staff, in addition to that of students.

"I'm very pleased with the funding to support school security, and social and emotional wellness and mental health," Koons said.

As reported earlier this year, county educators consider themselves in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Koons said at the time that the subject of student mental health frequently comes up at meetings with superintendents of the county's 12 public school districts.

"The need for mental health services is greater now than ever before," he said. "We're seeing depression, anxiety, aggression and an uptick in disciplinary referrals."

School counselors and social workers reported being inundated with requests for help from students and in some districts guidance counselors have had to put aside career counseling to concentrate on mental health concerns.

Contact the writer: hlee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6085