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EDITORIAL: What $100 million won’t fix

By Ben Rodgers

Attorney General Brad Schimel was in Green Bay last week to talk school safety, but it seems as though he missed the mark.

Schimel discussed the $100 million School Safety Grant Initiative and how all schools in the state, both public and private, will benefit.

At no other time in history has school safety been such a grave concern, and anything the state can do to help is beneficial.

There is no doubt that changes are needed. But this latest grant puts a focus more on safety upgrades rather than the mental health of students.

Both are needed to ensure student safety, and the grant does mention mental health.

“One of the School Safety Grant prerequisites is providing all full-time teachers, aides, counselors, and administrators with a minimum of three hours combined training in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and Trauma Informed Care/Trauma Sensitive Schools (TIC/TSS) before the end of the 2018-2019 school year; or demonstrate that staff has already received such training,” a press release from the DOJ reads.

So in order to be eligible for funds to improve school safety, all staff is required to take a three-hour course.

However, when dealing with something like childhood trauma is three hours training enough to make an impact?

The state needs to focus on funds that provide counselors who spent thousands of hours on the topic, the ones with college degrees in the mental health field, licensed professionals.

This statewide grant actually prohibits funds from being used to hire additional personnel.

Numbers locally are shocking. In the Howard-Suamico School District there are 14 counselors for 6,100 students, or one counselor for every 435 students.

The Ashwaubenon School District has six counselors for 3,273 students, or one counselor for every 545 students.

The American School Counselor Association and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recommends an ideal counselor/student ratio of 1 to 250.

The teachers that truly make a difference in the life of students already have a full plate. The required three-hours of training is a drop in the bucket compared to everything else educators accomplish everyday with students.

Let’s be honest, at no previous point have academic standards been as high as they currently are for students.

That demand goes both ways as teachers need to keep up and provide enhanced knowledge and expertise in order for students to succeed.

Instead of spreading that training out among a staff that numbers in the hundreds, why not bring in one or two professionals in the field?

The short answer is recurring expenses.

If the state wanted to go the route of providing counselors in every school, that would be a recurring expense. Year after year money would be need to be allocated for this, like road work projects.

The $100 million grant is more of a Band-Aid than a long-term protective measure.

Wisconsin needs something that will provide professionals who will be there as academic demands continue to increase.

When I worked in Chilton, the school district there went to the community to raise funds to provide an additional counselor.

There was no money in the budget, but the district saw the importance of having someone students can speak to, so they went out and raised the money themselves.

It’s similar to a K9 unit for local law enforcement.

Everyone knows it’s a good idea, and will make the community more safe, but those dogs are purchased, trained and cared for by donations.

Donations are required because budgets are not large enough. Entities that provide vital services do not have enough money to provide all of those vital services.

There are numerous ways the state could increase revenues, or cut expenses moving forward, but that’s another topic entirely.

But think about that, citizens are asked to give more than what they pay in taxes to provide services everyone can agree are beneficial.

We know K9 units keep drugs out of our communities, and can track criminals or find lost people.

We know licensed counselors are the best people to talk to students going through tough times.

But we as Wisconsinites are asked to pay for those costs out of money that is separate from taxes, or not have them at all.

So yes, while secure doors and entrances are important in keeping people with horrible motives out, addressing the problem before it starts, from the inside, is what needs to be done.

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