House Committee Rejects Plan to Place Psychologist in Every S.C. School

May 27, 2013

Investigative Reports

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PsychologistA bill that would have placed a full-time school psychologist in every public school in South Carolina has been scrapped by the state House Education and Public Works Committee, which replaced it with an amendment that would create a school-safety task force.

If the bill (H. 3365) as originally written had become law, 900 licensed school psychologists would have been needed in addition to the existing 462 full-time psychologists statewide, costing local school districts an estimated total of $67.8 million annually, nearly double the current total expenditures, according to a cost projection prepared by the Office of State Budget.

The estimated price tag was too high for members for the House Education committee who met last week to consider the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg. Govan introduced his legislation on Jan. 17, just a little over a month after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“A number of people have introduced bills with the intention of addressing school violence,” said Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort and chairman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee. “We don’t need a school psychologist in every single school. It’s somewhat cost prohibitive and quite frankly not necessary.”

Govan acknowledged during the meeting that “it wasn’t cost-effective” to place a psychologist in every school.

“All schools are not the same in terms of access to resources. But we want to look at how funding goes to determine how streams of funding can be utilized in order to provide more accessible services,” Govan said in support of the amendment to his bill creating the school-safety task force.

Patrick, a former U.S. Secret Service agent and owner of a security consulting firm, insisted the amended bill would not be an unfunded mandate, noting, “There are plenty of groups throughout the country that are offering free training to schools because of the wave of violence.”

“(This) study committee will focus on what is the most effective means of addressing targeted violence within our schools,” he continued, adding that a number of studies have identified threat assessment as “the most effective tool at preventing future violence in our schools.”

In the wake of recent school shooting tragedies, such as the one in Newtown, Conn., and at Virginia Technical Polytechnic Institute and State University, similar committees have sprung up around the country.

The proposed 15-member study committee under Govan’s amended bill would include representatives from various state organizations, including the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, South Carolina School Counselor Association, and South Carolina Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The chairmen of the Senate Education and House Education and Public Works committees also would appoint two members each.

Task force members would serve without compensation and could not receive mileage or per-diem payments under the amended bill, which likely won’t have any chance of getting out of the House and moving to the Senate until next year with only two weeks left in this year’s regular legislative session.

“What we want to do is assess basically where we are and ensure that we have the correct thing in place,” Govan said during last week’s meeting about the amended bill. “This task force would come back to the General Assembly with recommendations.”

Under the amended bill, recommendations would be due to the General Assembly no later than Dec. 31.

Contacted last week by The Nerve, a representative of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists declined comment on specifics of the bill, saying the organization has not yet “heard how the final version of the bill will be read.”

The Nerve last week contacted several Midlands school districts to get their reaction to Govan’s bill. Representatives at Richland School districts 1 and 2 declined to comment, each claiming inadequate information and knowledge about the bill.

Mike Harris, the Lexington-Richland School District 5 director of student services, said the district is supportive of additional psychologists.

“It certainly says to me that legislators are being very thoughtful and very careful in making sure that this is appropriate for South Carolina,” he said.

The school district currently has certain safety measures in place, such as a contract with Lexington County Mental Health and response teams in place within individual schools, “as well as district-wide teams that address issues as they arise.”

“We’d love to have more support and service,” said Harris.“That’s a worthwhile endeavor.”

Last week, The Nerve reported about another bill that would have placed Class IV police officers, who would require just two weeks of formal training, in schools across the state. That bill, however, was subsequently tabled.

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.