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What Value are Sensible Statutes Without Sufficient Oversight?

On April 1st a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was a crisis in mental health among America's teens.

A few specifics from the CDC: Over 50% of teens experienced emotional abuse, 44% felt persistent sadness/hopelessness and 20% seriously considered attempting suicide.”

To help confront the mental health crisis among youth, New York State, has been leaning on legislation passed in 2018, which made it the first state to mandate that schools must include instruction in mental health. The law decreed that all school districts “ensure that their health education programs recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relation of physical and mental health to enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity.”

In and of itself, this was a very worthwhile means to combat a problem that had already been identified by 2018 and has just been magnified by the pandemic.

But we fear, based on a new audit from the comptroller’s office that this may be yet another instance in which the passage of a law is only the starting point, and that without sufficient oversight, it’s nearly impossible to discern the vigor and virtue with which the law is being implemented.

According to the Comptroller, of a sample of 22 districts surveyed, three of them could provide no documentation that they were actually following the law. Others varied in the effort they were making to get to the law’s intended outcomes.

“Without some level of oversight” said the audit report, "the Department (of Education) cannot be assured that students are receiving mental health education or that the instruction achieves the intent of the law.”

This is a recurring theme in our experience with states and localities. Public officials really take pleasure in the accomplishments they can make with new, worthwhile statutes. But if they don’t mandate sufficient oversight, they may have little or no notion of whether the pats on the back they gave themselves were warranted.


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