Florida mental health services rank 49th in nation

State senator pushes for more guidance counselors in schools

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After cutting $34 million from Florida's mental health budget over the last three years, the state now ranks 49th nationally in available care.

A senate panel was told the state has no money for prevention, which has prompted one senator to seek a guidance counselor for every school. Florida now has an average of one guidance counselor for every 1,000 students, and even then, counselors say they are often diverted to lunch room or other non counseling duties.

State Senators said they have plenty of questions about mental health and school safety, but have been given given few answers.

"I think the teachers know that these kids have problems. Then what?" said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Broward County.

"I mean, the prevention dollars we spend is practically zero," said Rob Siedlecki, DCF Assistant Secretary.

According to the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, budget cuts have made Florida one of the worst places in the country for service. The council's John Bryant said Florida "ranks 49th per capita funding in the country of the 51 states and the District of Columbia."

Committee member Sen. Nancy Detert, a Republican from Venice, is pushing guidance counselors over armed guards in every school.

"If we had more guidance counselors, we would need fewer grief counselors," said Detert.

Detert said adding more guidance counselors is more important than adding police officers with weapons in the classroom.

Guns weren't on anyone's agenda until the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, and there is still lack of specifics. Because of Sandy Hook, Gov. Rick Scott now says everything is on the table.

"When we have tragedies like what happened up in Sandy Hook, we need to look at these things. If there are additional things we ought to do I want to look at those and work with the Legislature to get those done," said Scott.

Revenues are improving in Florida, but increased mental health services or guidance counselors will find the competition for new money, tough.

Sugar growers who have reduced pollutants by 55% were rewarded with a new 30-year lease on state land in the Everglades Wednesday by Scott and the Cabinet. The four member body controls all state lands.

The lease extension came over the objection of most environmental groups. Manley Fuller of the Flordia Wildlife Federation said the lease doesn't give the state flexibility in the future.

"We think that the 30 year lease is extraordinarily long lease. We don't think it was necessary for them to do that," said Fuller.

The final details of the lease extension must still be negotiated by the South Florida Water Management District.

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