Lisa Southern understandably was pleased.
The executive director of Compass Behavioral Health was happy to see Garden City among school districts in Kansas selected for a mental-health pilot program designed to help at-risk children.
Compass Behavioral Health will work with Garden City USD 457 on the local program made possible by school finance legislation recently signed into law.
Six school districts were selected for the program, with USD 457 the only one in western Kansas. Set to unfold in the 2018-19 school year, the program could be expanded to other districts based on initial results.
Southern said the goal is to help improve grades, decrease suspensions and expulsions and increase attendance, and provide early access to care for all students. There’s also a focus on students who move often, to include foster children, and those who need behavioral treatment.
Mental-health concerns are on the rise. Schools do indeed need help addressing bullying, stress, anxiety and other problems becoming more prevalent.
The enhanced attention on serious issues youngsters face is critical at a time the availability of mental-health treatment nationwide has been questioned in the wake of deadly school shootings.
The new Kansas-based program promises to address varying degrees of problems youngsters face, with the focus locally on elementary and middle schools. Funds will help cover the cost of therapists and case managers from health-care organizations, along with a district liaison to connect students with services they need.
News of the $10 million pilot program also brought proof of the wide-ranging benefit of Kansas’ five-year, $500 million-plus school finance plan for K-12 public schools, one primarily designed to put more money in classrooms, enhance accountability measures and refine the focus on student outcomes.
The school finance plan was crafted in response to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling current K-12 funding levels unconstitutional. Ultraconservatives in Kansas responsible for shortchanging schools also undermined social services in recent years.
As for the mental-health pilot program, USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin correctly described it as a way for the state to return dollars to local communities after cutting services available to children and families.
And as such, it’s a welcome — and long overdue — step forward.