After a gunman shot and killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to make the state’s public schools safe for students and teachers. The debate is not on gun control but how much state money to invest in metal detectors, alarm systems and surveillance cameras versus school counselors and mental health assessments, Stateline reports. Physical security measures are getting more dollars in legislative spending proposals. Mental health advocates are confident that the state will make the first substantial investment in school mental health services in decades. The state recently rated second to last in state mental health spending per capita. Angela Kimball of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “Texas is finally putting its money where its mouth is.”
Nationwide, the trail of school shootings of the past five years has prompted more states to invest in school mental health initiatives than at any other time in recent history, she said. Last year, two states enacted laws requiring public schools to include mental health education as part of their curriculum. New York mandated mental health training for K-12 students, and Virginia required it for high school students in the ninth and 10th grades. This year, South Carolina and New Jersey are considering similar proposals, and Florida has enacted an initiative to raise awareness of mental illness in public schools. Minnesota and Washington state are considering legislation that would substantially increase publicly funded mental health services for adults and children. In Texas, Gov. Abbott asked lawmakers to consider a program developed at Texas Tech University — known as the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral, or TWITR, project — that uses psychological screenings to determine whether students in junior high through high school may be at risk of violence to themselves or others.