A state school safety committee asked lawmakers on Wednesday to budget almost $100 million to improve security at schools and hire more mental health professionals.
Increasing mental health services in schools is crucial because youth suicides in the state have spiked, said Christy Walker, a school and student safety specialist with the Utah Board of Education.
“Utah really does have a growing need for us to address this area aggressively,” Walker said.
At the same time, Walker said, there is a shortage of counselors and mental health professionals in the community.
The committee was formed after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting where 17 people died in February. It is made up of representatives from 11 state and local agencies such as Utah Public Safety and the Division of Human Services.
The School Safety Advisory Committee is asking for $30 million to hire and contract mental health professionals for Utah schools.
It’s also asking for $65 million to add or update security features at older schools and incorporate safety into the designs of new schools.
Sydnee Dickson, the Utah state superintendent of public instruction, said she thinks it’s also important to provide teachers and school staff with mental health and threat assessment training.
“If we don’t provide the kind of support that we need for our adults who serve our students then there is going to continue to be a gap between best practice and current reality,” Dickson said.
The group also asked for funding to create a public safety law enforcement liaison between schools and public safety agencies.
Republican Rep. Ray Ward said he plans to introduce a bill during the next legislative session based on the group’s recommendations.