AUSTIN (KXAN) – Flanked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Gov. Abbott signed three mental health and school safety bills at the Texas Capitol Thursday. This comes as the Texas legislature ended its 140-day legislative session and put millions of dollars to the issues after the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018.
Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 11, which creates the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium. During a hectic night in the Texas House the original version of this idea failed by a procedural move by one lawmaker who opposed it, the sponsor tacked it on to another bill.
The measure hopes to “leverage higher education expertise in the state to improve the mental health care systems for Texas children.”
Beginning September 1, Texas will set the gears in motion for a new organization. The Texas Child Mental Healthcare Consortium hopes to provide counseling, therapy, and psychiatric services to students who currently aren’t getting them
“I heard from so many teachers and parents and pediatricians that they just didn’t know where to go. They needed more than what was available to them,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who authored the consortium legislation.
The thirteen health-related Universities will get $100 million to provide mental health services to classrooms in that area. In Central Texas, the hub will be the Dell Medical School at UT-Austin.
Stephen Strakowski, M.D, the Associate Vice President for Regional Mental Health at the Dell Medical School told KXAN he’s excited to integrate the University into the statewide plan. He hopes the University staff will be able to offer mental health work from doctors and licensed professionals; at the same time, the medical staff will get valuable real-world experience.
“The truth is, that if a child breaks her arm in Beaumont, Texas, we don’t bring her all the way to Austin, Texas for treatment. We shouldn’t be doing that for brain health,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
The crucial component will be telemedicine. So for smaller, far-away school districts, where money is tight, doctors and licensed professionals at Dell Med will come to them through video.
“They’re not outside where you get that specific healthcare because with technology and telemedicine, they’ll have some available,” said Sen. Watson.
The state gears of government are now turning to set this up, advocates hope by next year but with something so large, it might be the 2020 school year.
In this same bill, school districts will be required to create threat assessment teams to spot troubled students before they act. The state will grant $100 million to “harden” schools; adding security measures like cameras, locks, and metal detectors.
Abbott signed two other bills Thursday in addition to SB 11.
House Bill 18 will increase mental health training for school staff and teach mental health coursework to the students, in the hopes the students themselves can help identify mental health issues.
The third bill Abbott signed, House Bill 1387, will remove the cap on the number of school marshals in each campus.