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State budget cuts leads to dispute over mental health services for local special education students

Some 200 children locally could be affected by a statewide move by some counties that would allow them to stop providing mental health services to special education students.

The children still are receiving services, and will through at least the end of the year. But then the source of funding becomes fuzzy.

Twenty-three members of the California State Association of Counties – including San Luis Obispo County – have filed suit asking that the state law that orders counties to provide these services be suspended because the state cut off the money.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month vetoed a bill that would have provided the $133 million.

When the state cuts off the funds, the requirement to provide the services goes with it, CSAC said in its lawsuit.

Educators moved quickly to ensure that mental health services continue on an interim basis. State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell moved $75 million into the program, and local school districts throughout the state provided the remainder.

In some ways, the lawsuit is a move to get the Legislature to restore the funding, according to County Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker.

Crocker said defending a lawsuit, like providing these services, can cost taxpayers.

“If the court declares the mandate suspended,” CSAC wrote in a press release, “financial responsibility for serving the mental health needs of special education students will shift back to the school districts.”

“With the total elimination of funding and the mandate suspended, counties must transition special education mental health services back to the schools,” Mike McGowan, CSAC Second Vice-President and Yolo County Supervisor, said.

“However, there is a strong desire on the part of counties to work with school districts to minimize disruption in services and treatment for these students,” McGowan said.

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said that “The Governor should not have vetoed funding that seriously affects yet another vulnerable population.”

“Whether one thinks this is a good budget balancing move or not, it may be problematic, because there is apparently a federal requirement that this service be provided. So, there is much to be discussed in court,” Gibson wrote.

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