By Susan Frey
Gov. Jerry Brown’s line-item veto last month of $15 million for a two-decade-old program addressing mental health needs among elementary school children has left districts that relied on the funds with hard choices about whether to keep the program going.
The Early Mental Health Initiative uses unstructured play and social skills instruction to help shy, misbehaving, or otherwise at-risk K–3 students feel comfortable in the classroom and on the playground. The program has been particularly important during tough economic times, said Scott Lindstrom, student support coordinator for Chico Unified. “Parents are at their wits’ end because of financial pressures. We need it now more than ever.”
Brown’s veto was consistent with his position that, instead of funding specific programs, the state should let school districts set priorities for spending money.”While I appreciate the importance of prevention and early intervention services, I believe that school districts are in the best position to determine whether these services should be funded at a local level,” he wrote in his veto message.
The $23 million saved with the vetoes will become part of general education funding for all school districts, forcing those districts with an Early Mental Health Initiative program to support it by cutting money from other programs that are already stretched thin.