2019 budget proposal dedicates $7.7 billion to schools, $116 million for mental health

Governor Gary Herbert's budget priorities for 2018 include $7.7 billion for education, $116 million of which will go toward mental health resources in schools. (Photo: KUTV)

Utah's governor put forth his top priorities for education spending in the state of Utah on Thursday, which included $7.7 billion for Utah schools.

Of the $7.7 billion, $15 million would go to help at-risk kids in rural and urban communities, Governor Gary Herbert said.

Herbert said he also wants the legislature to approve his proposal of giving teachers a $30 million bonus as “a way to show them we appreciate the good work they are doing."

He also wanted to spent an unprecedented $116 million on mental health counselors and mental health needs in schools.

“One of the things we’ve been concerned about is the lack of counselors — not enough, not enough bodies doing the work that’s necessary,” Herbert said.

Beyond the Books has done several stories about the lack of school nurses in Utah schools, an issue the governor did not address Thursday.

Utah is 49th in the country when it comes to the number of school nurses working in Utah schools, despite the fact that the number of kids with chronic illnesses continues to rise. State lawmakers say they don’t like to designate money specifically for school nurses — they would rather the districts hire nurses only if they need them. Lawmakers say they want local school boards to make their own staffing priorities with the money they are allocated.

However, the governor is dedicating money specifically for mental health counselors. Herbert indicated the desire to prioritize mental health at the state level and leave physical heath resources up to individual school boards was because of the emphasis on mental health in schools on a national level.

The governor said he still wants districts to be able to hire however many counselors and what kind of counselors they like, but he says, sadly, mental health in schools is now front and center in America.

“Part of this is about public safety," Herbert said. "We’ve all seen the shootings taking place and on people’s minds — they're concerned."

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