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Supporting Educators and Students: Increase Access to Critical Professionals by UEA Policy Ambassador Lauren Rich

2/12/2020

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Lauren Rich, related services supervisor for Davis School District


Lauren Rich (second row, far left) is one of nineteen
2020 UEA Policy Ambassadors
On Feb. 7, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee reviewed an update on last year’s fantastic bill HB373: Student Support Amendments (i.e. Safe and Healthy Schools). As a quick recap and reminder, this bill provided funding to help support LEA’s in staffing mental health and school safety professionals such as school nurses, school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, etc.

It was a terrific effort by sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason and Sen. Ann Millner to address the ever-increasing health and safety needs of our Utah students. Reporting at the subcommittee meeting showed that approximately 185 qualified personnel were hired statewide using this funding stream. I would count this as a great step towards ensuring students have better access to these very important school professionals. During the meeting discussion was had about funding that will be again available to LEA’s in 2020 for this staffing, possible alterations in the bill to the application criteria from LEAs, and funding/usage of the SafeUT system.

As we move forward this year, I sincerely hope that efforts such as HB373 are continued and reflected in updated and new legislation. If you are familiar with the UEA 2020 Legislative Priorities you will notice the focus on in increasing Student Equity by providing “increased resources for student social and emotional wellbeing such as school psychologists, social workers and counselors, restorative justice, and trauma-informed teaching practices”.

One thing that UEA wisely puts together is a packet for representatives with comments and data from educators (you) in their own districts. Attending Educator Day on the Hill the last couple weeks has given me the opportunity to deliver those comments to my representatives. In looking through them, I was pleased to see a few critical themes emerge such as teacher need for school psychologists (specifically because they can deliver mental health support and assist teachers with student behavioral needs) and well trained/appreciated support staff such as aides and assistants.

Unfortunately, continued HB373 funding does not address the very real and important need for qualified and consistent assistant staffing, but it could and should help with securing personnel like school psychologists. Alas, the numbers reported from 2019 showed that of the 185 positions created, only 7 were school psychologists. I am thrilled to see an increase in my fellow school counselors, nurses, and social workers and I know this will have great impacts on Utah students. But in reading your comments, stories and needs I hear a specific desire for more access to your school psychologist and the skill sets they have.

I am sure this paraphrased sentiment rings true to many of you and I saw it repeated a lot in those statements; “My students have immense needs that I cannot meet alone as their teacher. They need mental health support and treatment, having a professional here to give that to them allows me to focus on teaching. I need help knowing how to shape my student’s behavior and having a professional who can help design/guide/and implement behavior plans in my classroom takes a huge burden off of me!”

My hope is that those making the staffing decisions in school districts and those in the legislature can help educators and students gain access to more school psychologists, as well as continue to support the growth of these equally critical professions. In order to make that a reality, I think the best place to start is simply remembering school psychologists! More often than not I think this group of professionals is overlooked simply because we are not as well known as our counterparts the counselor and social worker. You can be an incredible aid in this by discussing the value your school psychologist brings to you as an educator and your students with your district/building administrators, your community members, and your representatives.

Secondly, I hope to see policy changes in the future that help attract and retain school psychologists to Utah by providing them with benefits many other educators appreciate – such as access to educator supply money, legislative workdays, compensation for national licensure and state sponsored ideal student ratios.

UEA’s priorities this year do a fantastic job of highlighting how a 6% WPU increase would bring great benefits to the educators and students of Utah. One of them being this flexibility in spending would allow LEA’s and districts to invest in professionals such as school psychologists. I commend UEA for including this in their priorities and I am excited to see the continued efforts in this important educational topic continue. Thank you to all the educators who strive to support their students in every way possible and thank you for remembering and appreciating your school psychologist!

Read all the 2020 UEA Policy Ambassador messages

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