Gov. Brian Kemp says helping students with mental health issues will make schools safer, and he’s putting money behind that idea.
His proposed amended FY2019 budget includes $8.4 million for the Georgia Apex Program, which brings mental health professionals into public high schools to supplement the counseling services they already provide.
Kemp visited two high schools Monday that participate in the program to hear more about its impacts from counselors and administrators.
At Dawson County High School, Kemp stressed school safety isn’t just about making campuses more secure.
“Locking a door [is] not going to solve [the] problem,” he said. “We started learning about the resources that were there [for mental health], and that we just need more of those resources to tackle the problem.”
Kemp has long stressed mental health as a key part of his approach to school safety. As a candidate, he rolled out a $90 million plan for more counseling services and security improvements. The plan made no mention of guns.
Kemp has continued that approach as governor, introducing a similar plan earlier this year shortly after his inauguration.
School counselors agree that mental health services are crucial for students.
And counselors like Cherie Ferguson, who works at Dawson County High School, say the need can often feel overwhelming.
“Two counselors in grades 10 through 12 for 800 students cannot make a difference that we feel that we need to make to impact these students to be able to function and be successful,” she said.
Ferguson says, prior to her school’s enrollment in the Apex program, she was the only counselor for those students.
She appreciates the help another counselor can provide, though she’d like to see more mental health services for all students, not just those in high school.
Kemp seemed on board with the idea of expanding the current Apex program to more schools, especially at the middle and elementary level.
“We certainly knew this was just a start this year,” he said. “There’s no way to do this, all this, in one year. So, we’re gonna have to work on it year by year.”