53% of school superintendents said their district's budget will provide new funding for mental health services
ALBANY — School districts across New York are struggling to provide students with mental health services as suicide rates continue to climb across the country, a new study released last week found.
The annual Financial Matters survey released by the state's Council of School Superintendents found that 67% of superintendents identified improving mental health services in their districts as a top three funding priority moving forward.
The findings are consistent with a study released last year by the state's School Boards Association which found 66% of superintendents believed they did not have the capacity to meet the mental health needs for students in their districts.
Providing mental health resources has become a priority for school districts across the country as teenage suicide rates have continued to increase in recent years.
The suicide rate for people aged 10 to 24 increased 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the equivalent of 6.8 deaths per 100,000.
Last week's survey found that funding mental health services was a top priority for districts across New York, including those in rural, suburban and city communities.
“Our survey shows all types of districts, everywhere, are straining to address student mental health needs," Robert Lowry, deputy director of the Council of School Superintendents, said in a statement.
A closer look at the numbers
The number of superintendents that have identified improving mental health services grew by 11 percentage points in the last year alone and has nearly doubled since 2016 when 35% of superintendents identified funding such services as a priority, according to the survey.
A total of 53% of those surveyed this year said their district's annual budgets have allocated new funding to improve mental health services.
The push to improve mental health services in schools is indicative of how districts are working towards meeting the needs of students outside the classroom, said Charles Dedrick, the council's executive director.
"More and more school districts are taking exceptional steps that weren’t widespread 10 years ago, both to help students and families with non-school problems, and to make sure nothing is overlooked that could make their schools as safe and secure as possible,” Dedrick said in a statement.
The state's Education Department said it has taken steps in recent years to ensure mental health education is part of the state's curriculum and is working with districts to help fill the needs of students in the community.
“It’s a priority for the Board of Regents and the Department that districts have the tools they need for a multi-pronged strategy that involves mental health instruction, social emotional learning and the creation of safe learning environments as a foundation to academic learning," Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in a statement.
What else did the survey find?
Most superintendents in the state believe that their districts financial condition has either improved or remained unchanged since last year.
According to the survey, 65% of superintendents believe their district's financial condition has remained unchanged while 20% believe it has worsened since last year.
Just 14% believe their condition has improved, down from 2015 and 2016 when the number peaked at 31%.
Still, only 25% of those surveyed said they are somewhat or very optimistic that their districts can provide adequate services to students while 67% said they are pessimistic.
Eight percent of respondents say their districts cannot provide adequate services for students. The numbers are consistent from year past, according to the survey.
A total of 364 superintendents responded to the survey, a response rate of just under 54%. The state has about 700 school districts.
A look at past studies
Providing mental health services for school children has become a priority in recent years.
Several high profile school shootings coupled with a rise in teenage suicide rates has brought the issue of mental health in public schools to the forefront, according to the Timothy Kremer, executive director of the state's School Board's Association.
The organization released a report last year that found 29% of superintendents said their districts lacked enough school psychologists to meet the needs of students.
"Everyone in public education has been waking up to the fact that it is extremely important to pay attention to the mental health needs of our students," Kremer said in a statement when the report was released.
Suicide rates nearly tripled for children between the ages of 10 and 14 between 2007 and 2017. In the same decade, the suicide rate increased by 76% for teenagers between 15 and 19.
To address the growing need for school psychologists, the school boards' report suggested providing schools with state incentives to hire mental health professionals and form partnerships with local resources.
"While some communities lack extensive resources for mental health, community providers in many communities can offer supplementary or intensive services that go beyond the capacity of schools," the report said.