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Give Students More Support

Disagreements about some aspects of public school improvement in West Virginia simply must not be permitted to derail a bipartisan move to address what has become a desperate need: better mental health services for children.

State senators were to convene a special session this morning to discuss school “betterment” legislation. Later this month, the House of Delegates will follow suit.

Republican Senate leaders have chosen to wrap virtually all of their proposals into one bill, the “Student Success Act.” It includes multiple improvements with broad support. It also contains a controversial charter school plan.

What will happen to the SSA in the Senate and House is difficult to predict. But a repeat of the collapse last winter, when senators also tried for a comprehensive school bill — but lost — should not be risked. Defeat of the “omnibus” bill killed, for then, both charter school provisions and many other needed upgrades.

More mental health assistance for students in public schools is not just important, it is imperative.

We understand the havoc the drug abuse crisis has caused to many West Virginians. Dealing with it — not just in sentencing wrongdoers but also in attempting to help families broken apart by addiction — has become a major consideration for judges and state Supreme Court justices.

Consider a few statistics:

One study revealed that about 37% of Mountain State children live in single-parent families. Mothers and sometimes, fathers trying to raise children single-handedly can use all the help, including dealing with youngsters’ emotions, they can get.

Even worse, nearly 10% of our children are completely removed from their parents, often living with grandparents or other relatives. That is the highest rate in the nation.

Think, for a moment of the emotional turmoil of that.

Fortunately, children whose mental health needs are not being met have powerful advocates. One of them is state Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

As we reported this week, Weld is an advocate of expanding a program that operates in 40 West Virginia schools, including four in Ohio County. Officials here say the initiative, funded by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, is helping. It provides money schools can use to pay mental health providers for specific services needed by students.

Some new programs are included in the state Senate bill. Among them is one that could fund as many as 390 new personnel providing “direct social and emotional support services to students …”

But what if the bill is amended? What if it fails entirely and has to be replaced by more specific, individual legislation?

One thing that simply cannot be allowed to happen is for better mental health support for children to fall through the cracks. One way or another, it simply must be authorized this summer, in time to have an impact during the next school year.

Some things are too important to be allowed to fail. This is one of them.

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