Statewide public servants in the Legislative Budget Board alongside Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that $105.5 million would be transferred to support “school safety and mental health initiatives.”
The Legislative Budget Board—including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan, Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, and House Appropriations Chair Dr. Greg Bonnen—can redirect funding in the state’s budget while the Legislature is not in session.
House Speaker Dade Phelan originally proposed awarding more than $100 million in funding for mental health initiatives such as expanding telemedicine access, expanding pediatric crisis stabilization and response teams, coordinated specialty care for youth experiencing their first episode of psychosis, increasing mental health bed capacities in hospitals, and increasing Multisystemic Therapy all before the fall 2022 semester begins.
However, the actual transfer sees almost $90 million heading toward school safety, including bullet-resistant shields, silent panic technology, training, and research. Ten million dollars will go toward mental health initiatives such as the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium’s telemedicine access program and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s coordinated specialty care and Multisystemic Therapy.
The remaining $5 million is “to be used by the Hill Country Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities (MHDD) Center to assist in evaluating mental health services in the Uvalde community and preparing a needs assessment for the Legislature.”
“However, this additional financial support is not the end, as the Legislature will continue to prioritize these initiatives during the next budget cycle,” said Huffman.
The money is taken from a budget surplus in the Foundation School Program.
What is the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium?
As the Uvalde massacre renewed the attention toward school safety and mental health, especially for children, the Texas Legislature will undoubtedly refocus attention on the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium in the upcoming legislative session.
The Consortium was originally established by the Texas Legislature in 2019 following the 2018 Santa Fe shooting. Since its inception, public servants in the Legislature have awarded more than $200 million to the Consortium.
Its defined purpose is “to leverage the expertise and capacity of the health-related institutions of higher education to address urgent mental health challenges and improve the mental health care system in this state in relation to children and adolescents.”
The Consortium currently directs the five initiatives listed below.
- The Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN) provides telehealth-based consultation and training to primary care providers.
- The Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program provides in-school behavioral telehealth care to at-risk children and adolescents.
- The research initiative has created two state-wide networks to study and improve the delivery of child and adolescent mental health services in Texas.
- The Community Psychiatry Workforce Expansion (CPWE) funds full-time academic psychiatrists as academic medical directors and new psychiatric resident rotation positions at facilities operated by community mental health providers.
- The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) Fellowships program expands both the number of child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship positions in Texas and the number of these training programs at Texas HRIs.
However, grassroots activists strongly resisted the creation of the Consortium, asking Gov. Abbott veto the legislation when it reached his desk.
“A $100 million psychiatric consortium with connections to the pharmaceutical industry deployed to our community schools puts Texas children at risk of dangerous psychotropic drugging, data mining, and profiling based on family values, religious beliefs, and economic circumstances,” wrote 153 leaders of 130 grassroots organizations.
Perfectly normal children will be at risk for subjective mental health labels or viewed as potential threats, which can destroy their rights and the rights of their parents. Too much liberty is being risked in the name of preventing school shootings. In the hands of Democrats who hate gun rights, we fear this is the camel’s nose under the tent.
Creation of the Consortium
Following the actions of the 2018 Santa Fe shooter, who is still considered not mentally fit for trial, there is a renewed focus on the mental health aspect of school shootings.
Consequently, lawmakers highlighted Santa Fe as the impetus for the creation of the Consortium.
Initially, State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound) put forth the legislation to create the Consortium and its programs in two bills, Senate Bills 10 and 11. SB 10 was procedurally killed in the Texas House.
However, it was dead for only a few hours before it was resurrected as an amendment to SB 11, which passed through the Texas House and Senate and was eventually signed by Abbott.
Since the Consortium was originally created just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has yet to reach its full operational capacity. For example, Uvalde is among the school districts not yet included in the Consortium’s telemedicine program.
As the Legislative Budget Board has added another $10 million in taxpayer funding for the Consortium, perhaps the next report will demonstrate further implementation.