Del. Gov. Carney adds mental health dollars to education plan

Gov. John Carney calls for $75 million to fund initiatives for low income students, English language learners.  (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Gov. John Carney calls for $75 million to fund initiatives for low income students, English language learners. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Delaware Gov. John Carney is asking the General Assembly spend $75 million over three years to help low-income students, those learning English and to address mental health in schools.

Under the initiative, school districts would be able to create their own programs to improve academic success. That could be hiring reading and math specialists, increasing counselors or creating after-school programming.

About 9% of Delaware students have limited or no ability to speak, write or read English upon enrollment and 35% of students come from low-income households.

Students who are learning English as a second language and are from poor households struggle in reading and math classes.

In SAT exams in 2017, only 6% of English learners scored proficient in reading and writing and less than 5% were proficient in math.  In contrast, 54% of students who always spoke English met standards in reading and writing and 30% in math.

“Folks have all kinds of ideas about how to make sure every child whether they speak English as a first language or not, whether they come from a family with the kind of support we’d hope for all our children or not, have the opportunity to read a third grade level when they get there, do math and middle school proficiently and ultimately graduate high school ready to go out into the workforce or onto higher education,” Carney said.

“And we have to make sure every child in our state is able to do that. We can’t leave any child behind.”

Carney first proposed $60 million to support low-income and English language learners during his State of the State address in January. Carney now recommends an additional $15 million to fund mental health support in schools, after the state said revenue projections are coming in higher than predicted.

“One in every five students suffers from a mental health disorder. Trauma can occur in abuse, neglect and violence, and can impact a child’s ability to regulate their emotions, sleep difficulty and even affect their immune system. Children need to have their basic needs first before we can concentrate on academics. That might mean a warm meal, a hug or counseling session,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear.

“These investments in mental health will identify these issues early on so students will get the help they need to be successful academically emotionally and socially throughout life.”

Javier Torrijos, Chairman of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, said English language learners will fall behind without this kind of funding.

“We don’t have direct state funding for English learners,” he said. “Since 2003 we’ve grown over 400% and with no resources that means teachers don’t have the proper training they need they don’t have the books they need, you have teachers spread out over many schools, so that’s a problem.”

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