Commentary: WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 12, 2018) - In the face of the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities and gun violence that is endangering the health and wellbeing of America’s youth, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is calling for stronger federal investments that enhance student health and safety. Across the country and in New Mexico, schools are increasingly at the forefront in the response to these crises.
In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, Senator Heinrich joined over two-dozen Senators in requesting the highest possible funding allocation for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act to provide schools with the resources they need to help their students be safe and healthy, as well as cope with the trauma associated with gun violence and the opioid epidemic in their communities.
The Senators wrote, “While we are aware of the numerous priorities you must address, Congress needs to convey a strong message about the importance of funding school health, climate and safety activities. Under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, schools can utilize funds for activities such as providing school-based health and mental health services and counseling, implementing systems and practices to prevent bullying and harassment, supporting trauma-informed classroom management, and establishing community partnerships. School districts can also use funds to improve school safety, including training school personnel in school-based violence prevention strategies and developing relationship building skills among students to help improve safety and prevent violence.”
The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant is focused on the flexible, locally-determined use of funds to ensure that a large number of districts have resources they can direct in a manner that best addresses their particular needs in supporting student health and safety, a well-rounded education and the effective use of educational technology.
As of the date of the letter, based on analysis by CNN, there have been twelve shootings in American schools since the beginning of the year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, there were 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States, equivalent to 174 individuals dying each day, and 92,000 children were removed from their homes in FY16 because at least one parent had a substance use issue. New Mexico’s drug overdose rate has been among the nation’s highest for two decades, and the community is still recovering from the Aztec High School shooting in December 2017.
Senator Heinrich has advocated for resources to help communities in New Mexico combat gun violence and the opioid epidemic. He was recently joined by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and organizations on the frontlines of the opioid crisis in the state to highlight the need for dedicated funding and resources. Senator Heinrich also cosponsored the STOP School Violence Act, bipartisan legislation that funds school security improvements and invests in early intervention and prevention programs through the Department of Justice to stop school violence before it happens.
A copy of the letter is available here.