By the board members of the NC School Psychology Association
The Parkland, Florida school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 was a time of reckoning for school leaders and parents. That gut-wrenching tragedy drove home the understanding that as adults, we are not doing enough to prevent children in crisis from hurting themselves and others. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for our youth. When children are suffering extreme distress, they need to have access to a caring mental health professional with the training to help them.
The good news is that we have licensed professionals in our schools with the skills and training to intervene and help kids through crises. School psychologists’ unique expertise means that we are skilled in addressing the school climate through multi-tiered systems of support. There just aren’t enough of us in place. Since that horrible day eighteen months ago in Parkland, we now have even fewer school psychologists in North Carolina public schools than we did then.
In 2018 there were thirteen N.C. school districts without a full-time employed school psychologist. In 2019 that number has almost doubled, with 22 N.C. school districts having no full-time employed school psychologist at all. Statewide, our vacancies have risen by more than 20%. We anticipate even more vacancies, with increasing needs across many under-resourced local school districts. Large high schools in some districts are left with virtually no coverage, except from a contract psychologist who does not know the students, and is paid only to test.
Members of the North Carolina legislature have listened to the concerns of the NC School Psychology Association and filed several bills this year, but none of them were enacted.
However in 2019 the State Board of Education, with support from the Professional Educators Preparation & Standards Commission and NC State Education Assistance Authority, took two important steps forward:
- Allowing “licensure reciprocity” for Nationally Certified School Psychologists from other states; and
- Listing School Psychology as a profession eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Both of these measures support our recruitment efforts, but the final step is absolutely critical:
The NC General Assembly must improve the pay scale for school psychologists.
While the licensing requirements for school psychologists are the highest for any professional educator licensed by the NC Department of Public Instruction, the current pay scale does not reflect this requirement, or the professional training required to achieve it. As a result, it is incredibly challenging for N.C. schools to recruit and retain qualified professionals, especially in rural districts. With salary incentives, N.C. would both attract out-of-state talent, and better retain home-grown talent for our children.
The NC School Psychology Association remains focused on this goal because our children deserve better care. It is imperative that North Carolina prioritize access to mental health in our public schools. We call upon parents, community members, and educators to help our leaders understand the mental health needs of our children. Share your personal stories, and you will find common ground with those in a position to address this need.
The North Carolina School Psychology Association supports 740 school psychologists across the state.
Support NC Child’s work for nurturing homes & communities. Click here to make a donation today.