The Austin school board Monday night approved an agreement with Integral Care to keep 16 campus mental health centers open this school year.
The campus centers were in jeopardy of closure after the school district in June approved a $7.1 million student health services plan with Seton Healthcare Family that discontinued funding for 16 of 40 campus-based mental health centers with an on-site therapist. The plan also left some campuses without nurses.
District officials pointed to a tight budget, which calls for pulling $29 million from reserves to cover expenses. The district is on pace to deplete those reserves in three years.
But on Monday night, administrators presented a plan to the board for the district to form an agreement with Integral Care to continue the mental health services without interruption. The district will put in $400,000 for the services and Integral Care, Travis County’s mental health authority, will cover $300,000 in services. The district is seeking other funding sources to cover the remaining $1 million for continued coverage but wanted to show its commitment to the program.
The school district’s pledge to continue the mental health services comes as politicians and parents are calling for more mental health services on campuses. In the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting, which left 10 dead in May, Gov. Greg Abbott made increasing mental health services and adding counseling part of his 40-point school safety action plan. And in June, a study revealed 1 in 8 Texas high school students attempted suicide in 2017, underscoring the need for more robust mental health services in schools.
About 12 percent of Austin students, up 4 percentage points since last year, also have indicated they never feel safe at school, or only feel safe “a little,” a recent district survey shows.
“Mental health services in Austin ISD is an essential part of educating the whole child,” said Tracy Spinner, the district’s director of health services. “We are thankful for dedicated partners like Integral Care who have stepped up to continue services for our students at 16 campus mental health centers. While we are one step closer to supporting our students, the need for additional funds is still present, and we are continuing to meet with potential partners to fully fund these services.”
Advocates for keeping the mental health centers open on the 16 campuses said the facilities allow students and their family members to receive services immediately and reduce time away from class. The district also has been expanding mental health centers to elementary campuses through another provider, which is being funded by a federal grant.
“AISD has been one of the leaders in school mental health,” Trustee Cindy Anderson said. “It’s critical in supporting our families. There’s a wide variety of issues our students and families have to face.”
The agreement would continue care at Austin, Eastside Memorial, International, Lanier, LBJ, LASA, McCallum, Reagan and Travis high schools; Bedicheck, Burnet, Dobie, Fulmore and Martin middle schools; and Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy.