New funds have been earmarked for health and safety in schools across North Carolina. State School Superintendent Mark Johnson recently announced a $35 million school safety grants program for the 2018-19 school year. Funds will be used to hire new school resource officers and mental health counselors, improve school safety, and create an app to anonymously report suspicious activity.

The News & Observer reports:

“The push for the money came in the wake of the mass shooting earlier this year at Parkland High School in Florida. It will be used for physical improvements like fences and new doors, as well as for new staff like counselors and armed guards.

‘We know it’s not just going to take law enforcement,’ Johnson said. ‘It’s going to take addressing students’ mental health issues as well. So we also were able to award more grant money out across the state for innovative mental health programs. Programs where we can identify students, identify their needs and get them the help they need.’”

Improving mental health programs will include hiring new counselors trained to address problems and build relationships with students. WRAL reports the state currently has one school psychologist for every 2,100 students. Some psychologists work across as many as seven separate schools. The recommendation is one for every 700 students. Heather Lynch Boling, president of the North Carolina School Psychology Association, said the state has 75 school psychologist vacancies. With resources spread thin, it’s difficult to develop relationships and provide help to students in need.

One school shares that the safety grants will allow them to hire two mental health professionals for the 2018-19 school year. Wilson Preparatory Academy in Wilson, N.C., received notification that they were selected to receive funds from N.C. School Safety Grant. The school will hire two full-time personnel “to assist our scholars and ensure that they are safe during school hours.”

The initial push for funds was larger. Gov. Roy Cooper asked legislature for $130 million to spend, but during the spring’s budget debate, the use of one-time grants was approved. The News & Observer reports that the $35 million will act as a “listening tour” according to state budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, N.C., to determine how to expand the school’s safety funding in next year’s budget. Hopefully, this will expand to cover more mental healthcare professionals for North Carolina students.

For more details on this story, visit The News & Observer.

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