Shortly after a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled a 40-point plan for improving school safety, which included calls for boosting mental health services for students.
"The strategy that I most strongly encourage the legislature to consider is greater investment in mental health, especially in crisis intervention counselors," Abbott said. "As long as mental health challenges trouble our children, there will never be enough safety barriers that we can build to protect our students."
Abbott's plan calls for adding more school counselors to individual campuses and making sure first responders are equipped with mental health resources. With the state legislature back in session, lawmakers are proposing their own ideas for meeting mental health care needs in Texas schools and beyond.
State Representative Shawn Theirry, a Democrat from Houston, has filed a bill to expand mental health services in schools for students and their families. The bill pitches this as a way to cut down on absences and increase students' overall well-being. Theirry has also filed a bill that calls for mental health education to be integrated into the public school curriculum.
Some legislators want to keep better track of the programs that schools are already providing, and whether they are making a difference in educational outcomes. A bill from Houston-area Democrat Rep. Senfronia Thompson calls for tracking state-funded mental health services at individual school districts, as well as the demographics of students being served by these programs.
Senator Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound, has filed a bill to create a statewide Mental Health Care Consortium. The group would include representatives of nonprofits, colleges and universities involved in health research. They would be tasked with things like expanding services throughout the state, improving access to care through telemedicine and training more providers.
When you look at efforts to fund mental health care across the country, Texas ranks near dead last. The latest analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues and policy, had Texas at No. 48 in the nation on mental health care spending. In 2013, the state spent a little more than $40 dollars per person on mental health care. The national average is about $120 per person.