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Improving State Funding for Schools

Jessica Douglass Ė State Senate (D)

(4/1) There is a huge gap ($2.9 billion by Maryland State Education Association estimates) between the money that Maryland schools need and the money that Maryland schools spend. As a teacher and a mother, I have learned firsthand that there are as many ways to spend money on students in public schools as there are students in public schools.

Governor Larry Hoganís Safe Schools Act, introduced to the General Assembly last week, calls for $50 million a year to be allocated in new school safety grants.

When proposing a yearly $50 million investment in Maryland school safety, the governor is purposely avoiding the issue of gun control in the aftermath of yet another school shooting. Marylandís gun legislation measures are strict and American students will be safer when the rest of the states in the union catch up. In the meantime, what does school safety look like?

I am wary of making schools like prisons, outfitted with metal detectors, armed guards, and tiny, bulletproof windows. Instead, this infusion of $50 million must fund the hire of school personnel.

Every school needs an SRO, or School Resource Officer. These officers are employed by the police department and are trained to foster positive relationships with students. They, of course, enforce the law when necessary, but their daily presence in the school building is primarily to develop relationships within the community, making "see something, say something" a viable policy.

As school enrollment grows, school systems often opt to save money by not hiring new school counselors, simply adding to each existing counselorís current caseload. Over the last 15 years, I have seen the social and emotional trauma that students endure increase. Social media makes it impossible for teens and pre-teens to escape the harsh criticism of other students. No longer can students leave their social scars at school but peer judgment is now constant and pervasive. We need to reinvest in the training, continued education, and retention of school counselors. A counselorís caseload should not exceed 150 students. Each student needs an adult in the building committed to his or her positive social and emotional development so that counselors can reach out to students they recognize as struggling.

Every school must have a dedicated school psychologist. Children are suffering social and emotional pain from bullying online and at school, abuse and neglect at home, psychological disorders, and the fallout of entire neighborhoods ravaged by opioid addiction. More than ever, this is a crisis. Governor Hogan has said so.

So many of our students are in crisis and the teachers who see them every day do not have the time or resources to see it. Our class clowns, our straight-A students, bullies, writers, artists, special needs students, athletes Ė all kinds of kids are in need of help. When I learn of a studentís attempt at suicide, which happens at least once a school year, I am usually surprised because he or she seemed so happy, or popular, or successful. These students need a psychologist in the building who can help them when they are in crisis and can reach out to them when necessary.

Students in Maryland public schools are more often victims of suicide, self-harm, or overdose than they are victims of violent attacks. Abuse and neglect at home can be identified at school if there are professionals there who are trained to notice the signs. To keep children safe in school, the Safe Schools Act needs to fund personnel who recognize and support positive physical, social, and emotional development of all of the children attending public schools in Maryland.

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