Obama urges school safety, mental health grants

In addition to various gun control measures, President Obama wants to fund school safety and mental health initiatives in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, reports Ed Week.

A new, $150 million Comprehensive School Safety Program would fund 1,000 additional school resource officers (guards), psychologists, social workers and counselors.  Another $30 million would help school districts develop emergency plans.

Obama wants $50 million to help 8,000 schools “put in place new strategies to improve school climate and discipline, such as consistent rules and rewards for good behavior,” reports Ed Week.

The mental health package would improve young people’s access to mental health services. Also:

 $15 million to help teachers and other adults who work with youth provide “Mental Health First Aid,” enabling them to identify students with mental health problems early and steer them toward treatment;

$40 million to help districts work with law enforcement and other local agencies to coordinate services for students who demonstrate need;

$25 million to finance new, state-based strategies to identify individuals ages 16 to 25 with mental health and substance abuse issues and get them the care they need.

$25 million to help schools offer mental health services aimed at combating trauma, anxiety, and bolstering conflict resolution; and,

$50 million in new money to train social workers, counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals.

Before Newtown, Obama proposed eliminating grants designated for school counselors and nearly $300 million aimed at school safety, notes Ed Week. Now the administration is back to creating little pots of federal money for specific uses.

My daughter interned with the California Education Department’s office on preventing school violence two years after the Columbine massacre. She created a web site showing grants districts could seek to fund various anti-violence programs. When that was done, she was asked to help districts evaluate the various programs by posting links to research on their effectiveness. There was no such research. Perhaps we’re wiser now on what works for troubled kids.

Obama’s proposals — “well-intentioned and largely symbolic” — could undermine instruction by wasting time, energy and money preparing for a exceptionally unlikely event, writes Rick Hess.

The president’s proposed “mental health first aid” training grant works out to $150 per school.

. . . it’s likely educators will get a few hours of desultory training, which will be just enough to waste their time without making a difference. Or, if they actually get the training and support they need to do this well (with the $150 per school!), it’ll distract from training in their core work of preparing instruction, crafting assessments, monitoring student learning, and so forth.

An array of federal grants create “extra paperwork, meetings, and opportunities for small-dollar consultants,” writes Hess.