Governor DeWine says it’s time to invest in Ohio’s children. Will he deliver on that promise?
“We are going to direct significant number state resources to Ohio’s most in need children to help them overcome the barriers and disadvantages of poverty and trauma. Our school children, who are suffering. We have both a moral and economic imperative to support these students every way we can and that is why through targeted funding in our budget these kids will receive additional resources for mentoring, for afterschool programs, wraparound supports, health care, mental health care and much, much more. It is the right thing to do!”
Governor Mike DeWine, State of the State, March 5, 2019
In his state of the state address, Governor Mike DeWine promised to invest in Ohio’s children.
Faced with high rates of poverty and trauma and one of the worst opioid epidemics in the nation, the governor recognizes that Ohio’s children need schools that not only support them academically but also socially and emotionally. Significantly more state funding for K-12 education would meaningfully address these issues. The General Assembly will have to increase aid for school districts educating large percentages of low-income students by at least $256 million if it is to even begin providing students with wraparound services.
All children, especially children dealing with trauma and poverty, need mental health counselors in their schools. A majority of Ohio children – over 1.3 million – experienced at least one major traumatic event during childhood. Over a quarter of Ohio children survive two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), ranking us in the bottom 10 among states on this sad statistic. Kids who have survived these traumas are more likely to experience chronic illness, risky health behaviors, poor life outcomes, and even early death (though that remains, thankfully, rare). Some adverse experiences are much worse than others, but any of them might require skilled counseling assistance. Adverse childhood experiences include: poverty, parental death, parental addiction or suicidal tendencies, domestic violence, parental incarceration, parental divorce or separation, being treated or judged unfairly due to race or ethnicity. One in five Ohio children lives under the official poverty line, itself a traumatic experience.
Whether white, black, or brown, all of Ohio’s children need professionals in their schools who can identify mental or physical health needs and help with social and emotional development. For many students, especially students of color, with disabilities, or from low-income families, school social workers are the sole source of mental health services. School personnel are often the only health care provider a child sees regularly. Many school-based professionals help here: psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses. Ohio has a long way to go before our mental health staffing is adequate. During the 2014-15 school year, counselor-to-student ratios were significantly below national recommendations for school counselors, nurses, and social workers. Fixing this takes money.
Rural, urban and suburban schools should be hubs of support for students and their families. The wraparound services model, which addresses the needs of the whole child and their families, helps students overcome nonacademic barriers to learning. Academic, health, nutrition, and social services at school can be a lifesaver. Supports for parents like legal services, GED preparation, and coordination with social services are often offered. Wraparound services give students services and tools they need to thrive. Not incidentally, they also improve academic outcomes.
State funding for K-12 education has barely increased in over a decade, adjusted for inflation. Substantial increases in tax revenue are needed to make the deep investments in K-12 education that will help students overcome barriers created by poverty and trauma. We need to invest an additional $256 million in schools serving children with the greatest needs. In 2018, there were 826,000 economically disadvantaged students in Ohio’s public schools. These children may face hunger, homelessness and trauma. Social and emotional support, specialized curriculum, and staff and teacher training help immeasurably.
The number of very low-income Ohio students ballooned by 67 percent since 1999, while targeted funding for schools that serve them crept up by only 23 percent. Ohio should increase funding in the 2020-21 budget from the current (arbitrary) figure of $272 per disadvantaged student to a minimum of $425. This should be increased after a study to determine the actual cost to address student need. By increasing economic-disadvantaged aid, schools can begin to hire more mental health counselors and develop wraparound supports.
Ohio’s schools can be places that help students grow academically, socially and emotionally. Children can’t succeed without good nutrition, dental, medical and mental health services.
The Governor has said he cares about kids. We are ready to work with him to deliver policies that help Ohio’s children.