All Kentucky children deserve a safe environment in which to learn and grow. The Kentucky General Assembly’s School Safety Working Group (SSWG), led by Senator Max Wise and Representative Bam Carney, focused on just that. The bipartisan working group, comprised of legislators, citizens, such as Dr. Joe Bargione, who is a champion of the outstanding work of the BOUNCE Coalition in Louisville, and other experts in school safety, met since June 2018 to listen to and discuss proposals to improve school safety across the Commonwealth. The SSWG approached these monthly meetings through an intentional process to find what would work best for Kentucky schools and students, and a common theme was reiterated time after time – the need for deep, comprehensive and accessible school-based behavioral health services. When schools offer access to effective behavioral health services that address issues like depression and anxiety, students can quickly receive preventive treatment before these challenges get more serious.

Kentucky Youth Advocates was invited by the SSWG to bring partners of the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children to the table to share thoughts regarding the behavioral needs within schools and a common ground solution the state can implement.

Eva Stone, District Health Coordinator for Jefferson County Schools, shared the importance of having behavioral health providers on school campuses and that many schools have struggled to find funding for health providers, such as counselors, nurses, and behavioral health specialists. Stone also explained that school-based health providers can eliminate barriers, such as transportation, for vulnerable families to ensure children receive care in the school and can provide an opportunity for students to be connected to critical health services within the community so that they receive ongoing care.

At the SSWG meeting, Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) publicly announced CHFS intention to amend the state Medicaid plan to allow schools to tap into a federal funding stream to expand school-based health services for the upcoming 2019-20 school year and beyond. The opportunity will allow school districts and CHFS to pull down a vital federal Medicaid dollar match. Additionally, school districts’ existing expenditures for health services can be used to meet the match required to utilize these federal funds. This means that one of the most crucial cornerstones to ensure school safety – students’ access to needed behavioral health services – is affordable and achievable.

Schools are safest, and children are most ready to learn, when students have access to quality, effective behavioral health care that can address issues students are facing. Last week, Senator Wise filed Senate Bill 1 and Representative Carney filed House Bill 1, both of which incorporate the need for behavioral health providers in schools and the various mechanisms to reimburse providers for services as part of a comprehensive approach to address the safety of students across Kentucky. Because, as shared in last week’s blog on this topic, when students have safe and supportive environments in which to learn, all kids have the best possible chance for a bright future.

Learn more on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children policy priority, Expand Behavioral Health and Other Health Services in Schools, here. Stay up-to-date on SB 1, HB 1, and other Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.