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October 29, 2010

State Schools Chief O'Connell announces release of $76 million to maintain mental health services for students with disabilities despite Governor's veto

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today announced that the California Department of Education (CDE) will continue to allocate $76 million in available federal funds to maintain essential mental health services for students with severe disabilities despite Governor Schwarzenegger's unilateral suspension of mental health services for students and his line-item veto of $133 million in general fund for services provided by county mental health offices.

"Every California student deserves an education that gives them the opportunity to meet their full potential," O'Connell said. " Governor Schwarzenegger's action to eliminate funding for severely disabled students' mental health services is cruel to vulnerable children and is yet another slap in the face to public schools that have been underfunded by $21 billion over the last three budget years. I refuse to let the Governor's misguided action prevent severely disabled students from getting the mental health care they need from qualified providers. I have directed CDE to disburse federal funds allocated for this purpose in the same manner as it has for the last six years so that districts can continue to contract with the most appropriate providers and ensure continuity to help these vulnerable students."

"The Governor's unconscionable veto of funding for mental health services for disabled children has left families distraught and counties in a fiscal quandary," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said. "I commend Superintendent O'Connell for taking decisive action to allocate these federal funds and assure that counties can continue to provide these critical special education services."

"These funds will provide only temporary stability to ease the chaos created by the Governor's disruptive veto," said Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg. "Restoring the full support to the program will be an immediate priority in January when we have a different administration."

Mental health services for students who need them are mandated under law. The $76 million to be disbursed by the CDE will ensure mental health services that are included within a students' individualized education program (IEP), pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, are appropriately provided during the 2010–11 fiscal year by county mental health agencies consistent with current statute. In keeping with how funds have been dispersed in the past, the CDE will allocate federal funds to each county office of education to contract, on behalf of Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPA) in its county, with the appropriate mental health agency to provide specified mental health services.

"The veto of funding for AB 3632 services, a 25-year-old program that assures our emotionally disturbed school-age youngsters receive necessary mental health services, is wreaking havoc on our schools and communities," said Carol Bartz, senior director of the North Inland SELPA in San Diego County. "Our schools already face immeasurable challenges in trying to provide for the complex educational needs of our students with disabilities and are not equipped to provide for a student's complex mental health needs. The state needs to immediately restore funding for these critically important services our students are entitled to receive under federal law."

"The Governor's veto does not override federal law," O'Connell continued. School districts must still implement the IEP for all students with disabilities, yet most districts don't have the expertise to provide psychiatric and medical management of necessary medications and other mental health services. By disbursing these federal funds we will ensure that disabled students get the mental health services they need and prevent districts from bankruptcy."

O'Connell applauded the Legislative leadership in the Senate and Assembly for committing to restore funding for this critical program and for pursing a legal opinion on whether the Governor broke the law by suspending a mandate to provide mental health services for severely disabled students. In the meantime, CDE has issued a memo to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators, SELPA directors, and special education administrators, reminding them of their responsibility to provide mental health services to students with disabilities as required by Government Code sections 7570 et seq.