A Lesson in Mental Health – Sept 15, 2023



We all know that kids are suffering from mental and emotional challenges these days. But what you likely don’t know is that children and teens from wealthy and low-wealth communities suffer from nearly the same rates of general anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

What’s different is that the wealthy districts have resources to help students, while students in struggling districts are forced to struggle alone. It’s not good and it’s not fair.

That’s the message we delivered to the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), a powerful legislative committee that will recommend if and how the state should fund public education so that every child has the best education possible. Learn more about the BEFC here.

When the BEFC came to Philly yesterday on its tour across the state, Children First’s Donna Cooper delivered powerful testimony regarding the haves and the have-nots of mental health supports:

“Today’s hearing is focused on the intersection of school funding and student mental health so that you can consider what the Commonwealth can and should do with respect to school funding to make sure public schools have the resources needed to help students learn while coping with the aftermath of social isolation, grief, and loss from the COVID pandemic, as well as other present-day traumas and adversities associated with opioid abuse, violence, and the pervasive impact of social media.

“The scale of mental health suffering among our children is staggering.  Specifically in both high-wealth and low-wealth districts the data shows:

  • 41% of students reported feeling sad or depressed most of the time.
  • Almost 19% of students reported intentionally harming themselves.
  • 16% of students planned their suicide and 12% attempted to take their life.

“Although students from low-wealth and higher-wealth school districts share these extremely troubling mental health challenges, the data shows a stark difference in the mental health resources between these two types of districts. The top 20 highest-spending districts in the state spend nearly 68% more on student support services than the 20 lowest-spending districts. Specifically, the highest spending districts reporting spending:

  • 38% more for school-based psychological services.
  • 43% more for school health services.
  • 72% more for school nurses.
  • 59% more for guidance counselors.

“Keep in mind that in these higher spending communities, most students are likely to be privately insured and may have parents who can afford additional support for their students outside of school.  Clearly that’s in stark contrast with the students in the low-wealth Level Up districts where 77.5% of the students are low-income and likely to be insured by Medicaid and CHIP and, as a result, languish for months or years on long waiting lists for mental health services, or where family budgets are too tight to pay out-of-pocket for behavioral health services, making school-based mental health supports all the more essential.” (Click here to read Donna’s complete testimony.)

When it comes to students being mentally healthy and ready to learn, a well-funded education is the solution. Investing in schools is a way that we show our young people that we value them. 

Don’t let lawmakers off the hook for not funding our schools! The Basic Education Funding Commission is holding conversations about state funding across the state this month.

Attend these meetings or watch online so lawmakers know that we’re staying vigilant in our calls for fair state funding for our public schools.

“We are dealing with young people who don’t have great self-esteem, and this ‘love’ they are getting on social media can fill some of that void. But it can end with them getting shot…”

– Rev. Cornell Jones, group violence intervention coordinator for Pittsburgh, on how social media fuels gun violence among teens

Join us for an inspiring musical benefit featuring favorite selections from opera and Broadway! Diego Matamoros, former principal artist with the Metropolitan Opera and Royal Opera of Turin, is the headliner.

You don’t want to miss this extraordinary evening. 100% of ticket purchases support Children First – get yours here.

This is not the time for mere tinkering
with the funding formula
. Only transformative,
ambitious reform will ensure that our public
schools, in the very near future, are able to
give every child an excellent education.”

– Laura Boyce, Executive Director of
Teach Plus Pennsylvania, on state education funding