Bud­get pro­pos­als to add school coun­selors, im­prove safety

Gover­nor’s pro­posed bud­get to fea­ture in­creased fund­ing to en­sure key stu­dent sup­ports for safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LOCAL -

RICH­MOND — Gover­nor Ralph Northam an­nounced last month his pro­posed bud­get will fea­ture an ad­di­tional $39 mil­lion in new money for in­vest­ments to en­sure safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for Vir­ginia’s K-12 stu­dents. In ad­di­tion to a raise in teacher salaries, Gover­nor Northam also is propos­ing to al­lo­cate $36 mil­lion to fund ad­di­tional school coun­selors for school di­vi­sions across the Com­mon­wealth.

“Vir­ginia is a na­tion­al­lyrec­og­nized leader on school safety, but cre­at­ing a safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment means en­sur­ing all of our stu­dents re­ceive proper sup­ports, in­clud­ing ac­cess to men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als,” said Gover­nor Northam. “Vir­ginia’s school coun­selors play a crit­i­cal role in cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive school cli­mate and en­gag­ing with our stu­dents— they are an im­por­tant source of sup­port in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and we need more of them. We can cre­ate safer learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for Vir­ginia’s stu­dents by tak­ing a more holis­tic ap­proach, and adding school coun­selors is in­te­gral to our suc­cess.”

Ear­lier in 2018 Gover­nor Northam signed Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der Eleven, re-es­tab­lish­ing the Chil­dren’s Cabi­net and cre­at­ing a Stu­dent Safety Work Group chaired by Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Atif Qarni and Sec­re­tary of Pub­lic Safety and Home­land Se­cu­rity Brian Mo­ran. The di­verse group of stake­hold­ers con­vened to de­velop rec­om­men­da­tions to en­hance the safety of stu­dents and schools, cen­ter­ing fo­cus on the in­di­vid­ual safety and well-be­ing of Vir­ginia’s stu­dents. A num­ber of the work group’s rec­om­men­da­tions are re­flected in the bud­get pro­pos­als an­nounced in De­cem­ber.

Vir­ginia schools re­ported 9,238 threat as­sess­ments in 2017—50 per­cent of which were threats of harm to self. Sui­cide is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death among schoolaged youth na­tion­ally, and in Vir­ginia. Tak­ing steps to pro­vide ad­di­tional sup­ports to stu­dents, raise aware­ness about sui­cide, and en­sure stu­dents, school pro­fes­sion­als, pub­lic safety per­son­nel and com­mu­nity mem­bers are equipped with ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing and in­ter­ven­tion skills are crit­i­cal to a holis­tic school safety strat­egy. The $36 mil­lion pro­posal would be the first in­stall­ment of a three-year, phased strat­egy to hire enough school coun­selors to re­duce caseloads to 1:250 across all grade bands, the na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized best prac­tice. The state cur­rently funds a ra­tio of 1:425 school coun­selors.

In ad­di­tion, the gover­nor’s bud­get will pro­vide $3.3 mil­lion to the Vir­ginia Cen­ter for School Cam­pus Safety, en­abling it to fund crit­i­cal po­si­tions; ex­pand ac­cess to train­ing for school pro­fes­sion­als, school re­source and se­cu­rity of­fi­cers; sup­ple­ment ex­pired grant sup­port for the an­nual school cli­mate sur­vey; and pro­vide ad­di­tional ac­tive shooter train­ings. It also will add fund­ing for a threat as­sess­ment case man­age­ment tool, en­abling con­sis­tent track­ing and re­port­ing of threat as­sess­ment data that will al­low school and state lead­ers to bet­ter un­der­stand is­sues fac­ing schools and di­rect re­sources ac­cord­ingly.

“In­vest­ing in school coun­selors clearly demon­strates our com­mit­ment to best serv­ing our stu­dents and all their needs,” said Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Atif Qarni. “When it comes to the safety and well-be­ing of our chil­dren, we can never be too vig­i­lant. Pro­vid­ing fund­ing for crit­i­cal per­son­nel, men­tal health sup­ports, and highly rel­e­vant trauma-in­formed train­ings is es­sen­tial.”

“Vir­ginia has long es­tab­lished it­self a na­tional leader on school safety, in large part be­cause of the tremen­dous work of the Vir­ginia Cen­ter for School and Cam­pus Safety,” said Sec­re­tary of Pub­lic Safety and Home­land Se­cu­rity Brian Mo­ran. “Gover­nor Northam’s sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment will bol­ster their work and en­able the Cen­ter to hire ad­di­tional staff, cre­ate and of­fer cut­ting edge train­ing to our school and law en­force­ment com­mu­ni­ties, and pro­vide tech­ni­cal sup­port to lo­cal school di­vi­sions.

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