Progress may be slow to reach the halls of the State Capitol, so we’re happy to see Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan making mental health a priority in the wake of the Uvalda massacre.
Any sincere legislative effort to prevent more mass shootings in schools should be aimed at combating gun violence. But mental health is also an important factor, and expanding access to health care should be easy to reach consensus.
In a letter this week, Phelan outlined a $67 million investment in additional resources to improve child mental health in Texas. Phelan said the budget for these measures could come from a surplus in the state’s main Texas Public Schools funding program.
The Speaker’s Plan for Mental Health includes several proposals that we recently wrote about that have received widespread support from Texas mental health advocates. One of these is a telemedicine program that connects schools with and provides counseling to university mental health professionals who can help students with behavioral or mental health issues with parental consent. The program is called Access to Texas Children’s Health Through Telemedicine, and with its current annual budget of $25 million a year, it covers about 40% of the state. Phelan will increase this budget by $37.5 million.
His proposal also increases funding for a range of therapeutic programs that rely on teams of professionals to provide care and stability for children and adolescents. These programs are designed for young people experiencing mental health crises, psychosis and severe behavioral problems. We hope these programs will reduce dependence on hospitals and foster care by helping families deal with children’s behavioral problems before they get out of hand.
Still, Texas needs a more robust mental hospital system, and Phelan wants to add more pediatric beds at a cost of $30 million a year. Its funding package also includes $33 million for school safety education, surveys, and panic alert technology.
Now compare this sweeping plan with the immediate solution proposed by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the Texas Senate: $50 million for bulletproof shields for the police. Patrick indicated that he was also interested in door locks, metal detectors, and intelligence sharing about potential threats.
Of course, legislators should discuss ways to physically protect schools. But they must remember that schools are centers of learning and growth, not prisons and fortresses. Our leaders must resist a mindset that sees mass shootings as an integral part of American life, not as a catastrophic event that can be prevented.
That’s why we urge state legislators to pay attention to a proposal in the US Senate that would encourage states to adopt red flags. The details of this proposal are under review, but we should all at least agree that there are people who are too unstable to have guns and that we should do everything we can to prevent these people from getting firearms so that they did not harm themselves or others.
We are grateful for Phelan’s mental health initiative and look forward to the speaker showing the same leadership in the gun policy debate.
We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. Check out the tips and send mail here.