DC Council, Committee on Health Budget Oversight Hearing

March 30, 2023

Minetre Martin
Organizing Manager
Education Reform Now DC

Chairperson Christina Henderson and Committee on Health Members,

My name is Minetre Martin, I have a bachelor of science in psychology, I am a former classroom teacher, a Ward 4 resident, and Organizing Manager for Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for a just and equitable public education system for all students in Washington, DC. Today, I am testifying to advocate for improved behavioral health resources in schools.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in Washington, DC, suicide is among the leading causes of death for youth ages 10-24,[1]predominantly affecting Black youth.[2]

To put more detailed data into perspective, Let’s take a moment to imagine a classroom of 25 high school students in Washington, D.C. Among these students,

1. About 13-14 of them, which is more than half of the classroom, would have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness or seriously considered attempting suicide, according to a recent survey.[3]

2. Approximately 2 students in this classroom would have witnessed or experienced violence, reflecting the 7.4% rate in DC, which is nearly double the national average of 3.8%.[4]
3. If the students come from low-income households, the number of those who have witnessed or experienced violence would increase to around 3-4 students, reflecting the 14% rate, more than twice the national average of 6.8%.[5]
4. Among LGBTQ+ students they would have twice the likelihood of reported suicidal thoughts, compared to heterosexual students, showing that LGBTQ+ youth are at a significantly higher risk.[6]

Alarmingly, one of those students could be your child, your child’s friend, your neighbor, or in my case, a former student.

These numbers demand that we prioritize the emotional and mental well-being of our children. Our youth face challenges deeply rooted in their development, and childhood trauma can profoundly impact their growth into adulthood. Yet, we are shocked that only 8 out of 100 9th graders in DC will complete postsecondary education within six years after high school.[7]

According to the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) school-based behavioral health services have the highest utilization with 26,681 individuals served. We applaud the Mayor for not cutting school-based behavioral health services during a fiscally challenging year. However, the Mayor only proposed a $113,000 increase, which we know is not sufficient to meet the needs of all of our students. What is the
strategy for improving the pipeline of clinicians?

To improve mental health support in our schools, I ask this committee to consider the following budget
request and suggestions:

Increase funding for school-based behavioral health services to $5.7 million for FY 2024 to ensure stable compensation per clinician

The FY 2023 budget allotted $80,000 per clinician per school to place a community-based organization (CBO) clinician in each of DC’s 253 public schools. Due to staffing cost increases, DBH increased funds for CBOs by over 40%, to $99,000 per clinician per school in December 2022. However, CBOs are still facing challenges in recruiting and retaining clinicians due to a shortage of behavioral health care professionals in the District. We applaud DBH’s efforts and urge them to invest at least $5.7 million in the SBBH program to ensure stable compensation for partnering CBOs in fiscal year (FY) 2024.

We also recommend the following:

1. Ask the Committee of the Whole to hold a public hearing on the B25-0055, the “Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2023.”

Community members have been discussing this bill and believe that it is time to take action. Holding a hearing would be a step in the right direction to address the District’s long-term goals. Holding a public hearing will increase awareness of the proposed legislation among the general public and stakeholders, allow for a comprehensive discussion of these provisions, ensuring they are well-designed and effective in attracting and retaining students in this field, and help to ensure that mental health professionals better reflect the communities they serve.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[1]American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2021). District of Columbia: Suicide and mental health fact sheet.
[2]American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2022). AACAP Policy Statement: Increased suicide among Black youth
in the United States.
[3]Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2019). 2019 District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey: High School
and Middle School Reports. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/2019%20DC%20YRBS%20Report.pdf
[4]Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. 2020-2021 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) data query. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://www.childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=9535&r=10
[5] Ibid
[6] Suicide risk among LGBTQIA students in Washington D.C.: Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2019). LGBTQ Student Report. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/page_content/attachments/LGBTQ%20Student%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
[7]DC Policy Center. (2022, October 27). Schools 2021-2022: How DC students, teachers, and parents are faring. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/schools-21-22/