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Mental health spending in schools could see an increase next year

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Education is asking lawmakers to increase funding for mental health services, bringing the total up to $100 million in the coming year.

But even with the $25 million increase, the state will still staff counselors below the nationally recommended average of one counselor for every 250 students.

"We're close to between one to 400 to 500, which is a decrease over the last couple of years. We've added almost 500 to 600 school counselors statewide," said Jacob Oliva, the K-12 chancellor. 

The recommendation is winning rave reviews from lawmakers.

"I think that's a key, No. 1, to keeping our kids out of trouble, but No. 2, trying to determine those problems before they occur," said Rep. Ralph Massullo.

House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Chris Latvala called the increase a big step forward.

"And when you are a school psychologist and you have two or three schools that you cover, it's hard to find those kids that have the severe issues," said Latvala.

The Parent Teacher Association is also on board with more counselors, but it would like to see is the ratio of counselors to students listed on schools' report cards for parents.

"I don't know that parents realize the disparity," said Angie Gallo, with the Florida PTA.

The state DOE is also asking for $200,000 to cover increased liability insurance costs as a result of having armed teachers in some counties.

"And hopefully, they'll never need it," said Latvala.

The ask comes as a former guardian, a nonteacher in Pinellas County, was charged with pawning his gun and bulletproof vest multiple times for gas money.  He was charged with five counts of false verification of ownership.

The state DOE is also asking for $8 million to provide instant communication with police and other first responders for schools statewide.