Unfunded mental health mandates weigh on Indiana schools

("old school" by alamosbasement, CC BY 2.0 )

Some Indiana schools are worried that they don’t have the time or money to implement all of the mental health training mandated by state law.

Teachers are required to undergo regular training on suicide prevention, child abuse and neglect, human trafficking, bullying and CPR. Lawmakers this year added a requirement for all school employees who come into contact with students to undergo seizure awareness training. That law takes effect next July.

“It sounds like a lot, but it is do-able and important,” said Sarah Pesavento, a counselor at Riley Elementary in Vigo County who trains her colleagues in bullying prevention and child safety related to abuse and neglect.

Such state laws often are passed as unfunded mandates, meaning no resources are allocated to pay for the training sessions, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star reported . And it’s not just a matter of money.

“The two issues we struggle with are paying for the programs … and finding the time to implement them,” said Rick Stevens, Vigo County School Corp. assistant director of student services. “It’s time for state legislators to fund their mandates.”

The Legislature passed 53 new laws during the 2019 session that affect public education.

“Each of these bills have merit and are important for certain student populations that are under-served or have needs that need to be supported or protected,” said Terry Spradlin, Indiana School Boards Association executive director.

Mike Brown, Indiana Department of Education director of legislative affairs, said lawmakers are aware of the challenges posed by the mandates but have taken little action to address them.

“They realize that one item here or there, yeah, OK, we can get that through, but if you go back over the number of mandates we’ve placed on schools over the past 10 years, obviously it adds up,” Brown said.

Republican state Rep. Tony Cook said he wants to form a committee to examine how to eliminate or reduce the number of mandates placed on schools and “streamline fiscal and compliance reporting to the General Assembly.”