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NC state legislators say they're ready to fund more mental health services in schools

North Carolina schools have long suffered from historical underfunding of mental health staff positions and programs.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The investigative report about the failures leading up to, and during, the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas has amplified a call advocating for mental health funding for schools in North Carolina.

School districts have long asked for help funding mental health services. While COVID-19 relief funds filled some financial gaps, those funds were only temporary. 

"This big influx of COVID relief funds that we've had expires in 2024," Elyse Dashew, chairperson of the CMS Board of Education, said. "That's right around the corner. And so we may get used to doing some programs, or having some additional staff, that are going to vanish." 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has spent more than $22 million on mental health and student wellness initiatives for students.

There’s an appetite from state leaders in Raleigh to give local school districts more money for mental health programs. Some lawmakers said it could stop the next school shooter. 

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"I've had some people, I will say, in another agency at the federal level that said that if we do this right ... and we help those kids that need help, then chances are we won't have a Vegas shooter 30 years from now," John Torbett, a Republican lawmaker representing Gaston County, said referencing the 2017 shooting that killed 60 on the Las Vegas strip.

The chair of the North Carolina House Education Committee said he’s working to increase funding. 

"If we provide additional funding and correct those young people when they really need the help," Torbett said. 

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Torbett has advocated and helped pass legislation for more school resources officers and other visible safety measures like advanced door locks. 

The Republican-led legislature has not responded to school shootings with changes to gun access in the state. 

Although many school districts welcome additional funding for mental health resources, these programs have historically been underfunded. In most districts, the ratios of students to counselors and psychologists falls below national recommendations. 

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Districts like Union County Schools in North Carolina have partnered with community organizations to fund some of their mental health resources. The Union County Board of Education voted unanimously in May to team up with Atrium Health to offer mental health services to high schoolers.

As far back as 2018, CMS asked the county for millions of dollars for extra counselors and psychologists. 

Those calls for more funding continue as COVID money dwindles. 

"Unless we can show either the state or the county that these investments are worthwhile and... please replace those funds when they disappear to keep it going," Dashew said. 

CMS has put in body scanners to detect dangerous weapons, but they know for a safe school this is only half the battle. 

"The other thing is preventive measures with teaching, checking in on students with their social-emotional health, teaching safe, and healthy conflict resolution tactics," Dashew said. 

More funding for mental health services can pay for more dedicated spaces for students to process stress and grief, and provide them with someone to talk with about it.

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.

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