Districts must pick up the tab for student mental health - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Districts must pick up the tab for student mental health

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San Diego (CBS8) - Things are going from bad to worse for schools in San Diego County. They'll now be paying the price for student mental health services, and those millions have to come from somewhere.

Effective December 31, 2010, the county will no longer provide mental health services for students. San Diego County's Mental Health Services Director Alfredo Aguirre sent a letter dated October 22, 2010, to all county mental health providers. It states, "We regret that we are unable to provide these services, but the Governor and the Legislature have left us in an impossible situation. Unfortunately, they have chosen to balance the state's budget on the backs of children who are the most in need and without recourse."

When Governor Schwarzenegger signed the budget on October 8, 2010, closing a $19 billion gap, he used his line-item veto power to cut $132 million of funding which had been designated to reimburse counties for providing mental health services to special education students. "Many of them have serious emotional disorders," Aguirre told News 8, adding, "Many of them have varying degrees of learning disabilities with related emotional behavioral problems attached to these learning disabilities."

Aguirre says the San Diego County currently services 1600 students. The impact on students who will have to change mental health providers could be disruptive, as these already challenged students will have to build a new relationship of trust with a new therapist. About one-third of the students have Medical coverage, and will continue to be serviced through the county, but the remainder will have their services provided to them by their schools.

Under federal law, special education students are entitled to these services, so the burden now falls on school districts in California, which are already facing huge budget shortfalls of their own. San Diego Unified, for instance, is struggling to close a $140 million gap. Aguirre told News 8, "There's been a long history of under-funding in Special Ed in general, and so what happens is that they have to encroach into the regular education budget, which of course impacts all students and leaves districts in very difficult places."

A lawsuit has been filed against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on behalf of one special education student, citing "mass confusion of crisis proportions" and "irreparable harm" to more than 20-thousand special ed students in the state.

 

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