McKeesport, July 21,2022 – State Sen. Jim Brewster’s efforts to protect Pennsylvania schools have paid off with a $200 million increase in funds for safety and security and mental health in the 2022-23 PA State Budget.
“This new School Code contains a historic financial commitment to school safety as well as focused regulation to make sure every school achieves baseline requirements,” Brewster said.
Since its 2018 creation, Brewster has been a member of Pennsylvania’s School Safety and Security Committee facilitated by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and an advocate for hardening schools while at the same time addressing core causes by making mental health assessment more prevalent and counseling more available.
In 2019 Brewster sent a letter to the committee asking it to establish baseline standards of safety for every school in the Commonwealth. Specifically, he encouraged the committee members to establish physical baselines, including items such as door locks and cameras; mental health baselines, including school counselors and psychologists; and environmental baselines, including air quality monitors as well as lead and mold abatement.
The latest School Code changes the requirement for active shooter training from every 5 years to yearly training, an important piece of school safety.
“Everyone in the building should be trained on how to protect themselves in the event of an active shooter,” Brewster said. “This updated requirement in the School Code is a necessary improvement to keep our schools safe.”
After years of partnership and hard work by the School Safety and Security Committee, the PCCD, the General Assembly, and the Governor, the recently passed state budget contains historic new investments of $100 million for school safety infrastructure and another $100 million for school mental health grants.
The money, Brewster said, is only part of the progress. Pennsylvania’s School Code now requires the schools to conduct surveys to see if standards for mental health services are being evaluated and baselines are being met. This survey must be completed by August 31.
Just as important, the new School Code provides incentives for training new school mental health counselors through a School-Based Mental Health Internship Grant Program through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). The program is intended to encourage careers as school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers.
PHEAA will be required to keep track of grant applicants and awardees to assess the effort of bringing more mental health professionals to careers in schools.