LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY 2
PROMOTE EDUCATOR & STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH
PAGE Legislative Priority 2:
Promote Educator and
Student Mental Health
PAGE is Georgia’s largest professional organization for educators, representing more than 95,000 teachers, administrators, and school personnel throughout the state. Our members drafted and approved their 2021 Legislative Priorities, which will guide PAGE’s advocacy during the legislative session. This page supplements the 2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities Overview.
Promote student and educator mental health:
Increase funding to provide school counselors for all students.
Enhance access to external mental health supports -- including telecommunication and mobile counseling in rural and hard-to-staff districts -- and collaborations with state agencies and other service providers.
Support the development of hubs in schools, which can coordinate and leverage community and state resources to meet students’ mental health, physical and developmental needs.
Ensure educator well-being by protecting planning time and duty-free lunches, and providing mental health supports.
Students’ academic outcomes are influenced by their mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly contributed to student mental health challenges, to an extent not yet fully known. Pre-pandemic data indicates that students experiencing mental health concerns such as depression are more likely to have lower levels of academic achievement, more absences and behavioral problems, greater frequency of suspension and expulsion, and lower graduation rates (see footnote 1). According to Mental Health America, 108,000 Georgia children ages 12-17 suffered at least one major depressive episode in the 2016-2017 school year, and 70 percent of them did not receive mental health services (see footnote 2). More than 77,000 sixth through 12th graders in Georgia’s public schools reported attempting suicide at least once in the previous 12 months on the 2019 Georgia Student Health Survey (see footnote 3).
The long-standing need for student mental health support, which PAGE members have called attention to previously, is worsening. In a recent survey of nearly 6,300 PAGE members, over 75 percent of educators report that student mental health needs are higher in the 2020-2021 school year than in prior years. Educators describe students experiencing loneliness and depression, anxiety about parent job loss and financial pressures, social isolation, worry about contracting the virus, and more. School- and community-based services should be expanded to address these and related student needs.
Georgia’s school funding formula allocates dollars for school counselors to most students with the exception of special education and gifted students. State lawmakers should ensure these students also receive funding for counselors and that the funding level meets the recommended counselor-student ratio of 1:250 (see footnote 4). The current funding level is one counselor for 450 students.
Expanding access to community-based mental health providers is also needed to support students effectively. Telemedicine communication strategies can be particularly effective in rural and hard-to-staff districts, where there are often few professionals providing mental health services to children and adolescents (see footnote 5).
Students need more than effective educators to be academically successful. They need good physical health, nutritious food, enriching afterschool and summer activities, safe housing, easy access to books and the arts, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these supports even more critical, particularly for historically marginalized and rural students. These supports can be provided by establishing hubs in schools, as recommended by the Georgia Department of Education.6 This hub approach draws on the community schools model, through which schools partner with external organizations to provide services to students and families. This hub model has a track record of improving student academic success and well-being (see footnote 7).
Educators also need support to continue serving students effectively and have taken on an array of new responsibilities in order to meet student needs during the pandemic. Nearly half of educators are teaching both in-person and virtually, which requires extensive preparation and time. Educators spend much more time communicating with parents and providing technical assistance. They cover classes for colleagues who are sick, in quarantine, or absent for other reasons. Added responsibilities frequently consume educator lunch and planning periods. Planning and duty-free mealtimes must be protected to ensure that educators are able to effectively prepare for their classes and to ensure educator well-being.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Issue Brief: Mental Health and Academic Achievement. Rockville, MD: Same. Retrieved from https://www.education.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt326/files/inline-documents/mental_health_and_academic_achievement.pdf
Reinert, Maddy, Theresa Nguyen, and Danielle Fritze. (2020). 2021 The State of Mental Health in America. Alexandria, VA: Mental Health America. Retrieved from: https://mhanational.org/research-reports/2019-state-mental-health-america-report
Georgia Department of Education. 2019. Georgia Student Health Survey 2.0. Retrieved from:
American School Counselor Association (n.d.) Student-to-school-counselor ratio 2018-2019. Alexandria, VA: same. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a56b9aa017db276cd76b240/t/5e9663c6d3ddce144cdad0c2/1586914246609/Ratios18-19.pdf
Voices for Georgia’s Children. (2017). An analysis of Georgia’s child and adolescent behavioral health workforce. Atlanta, GA: Same. Retrieved from https://georgiavoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/BHWF-New-Foreword-2020.pdf?9d7bd4&9d7bd4
Georgia Department of Education. (2020). A roadmap to reimagining K-12 education. Atlanta, GA: Same. Retrieved from https://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/communications/Documents/A_Roadmap_to_Reimagining_K-12_Education.pdf
Daniel, J. & Snyder, J. (2015). Community schools as an effective strategy for reform. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Retrieved from: https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/community-hools-web11.pdf