An Open Letter to my Washington State Legislators

McCleary Compliance for Mental Healthcare: A Common-sense Intervention for Gun Violence

I’m writing in the wake of yet another mass shooting in the Pacific Northwest. I’m proud of the recent steps we’ve taken in Washington to minimize access to guns: the passage of I-594 to close background check loopholes and the unanimous passage of HB 1840 to restrict firearm purchases by people with restraining orders against them. I was heartened that the father who provided the guns in the Marysville shooting was convicted on unlawful possession charges. These are all good, common-sense steps that any state can take to reduce the proliferation of firearms and deter would-be accessories to mass shootings from casually providing weapons to terrorize our schools.

However, there is a big piece that Washington State is NOT doing to address the kinds of mental health crises that often accompany mass shootings and domestic violence. It is our state’s paramount duty to provide for basic education for its students. Because of our legislature’s contempt of the McCleary ruling, our schools are not getting constitutionally-mandated funding for basic services.

Among the major points of contention for the recent Seattle teachers strike was how poor funding hurts our most vulnerable children. Without funding for adequate staff including nurses, counselors, and psychologists, these professionals cannot provide the mental health care required to intervene for a troubled individual. For example, a school nurse may have a caseload of 600 students in a school he is in three days a week. A school counselor may be alone in that role for hundreds of students. In Seattle, more than 1500 students are served by one psychologist. To imagine that one over-worked, modestly compensated person shuttling between schools can intervene to deter a seriously ill person from committing a mass shooting is laughable.

 We cannot discuss viable mental health interventions to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings in our schools when our legislature refuses to fully fund basic education. It’s that simple.
The thing is, we are already paying the high cost of gun violence. In King County, based upon data from 2007-2011, the average annual cost of firearm deaths and nonfatal hospitalizations was $177 million due to medical expenses and lost productivity.
It seems that by failing to provide the constitutionally mandated safeguards in the form of fully funding basic education — including mental healthcare in our schools — our legislature is complicit in burdening the taxpayers with the high cost of gun crime. Most disturbingly, by failing to comply with McCleary, our legislators who see mental healthcare as an important tool to reducing gun violence continue to choose an educational and social environment that is inadequate for mounting these interventions and treatments.

Every delay on funding our educational system is a delay for a student who cannot wait to get help. Every year that the legislature refuses to do its duty is another class graduated without the mental healthcare resources they deserve. Every day the school doors open, our teachers are on the front lines of a system that all too often has deadly consequences for our children.

I am requesting that you marshall the political will and the moral action to fund McCleary  in part as a way to reduce violence in our schools and to grow into the prosperous, safe, peaceful state that we all want for our children.

Sincerely,

Rachel Faber Machacha
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