Re-printed from the Rio Rancho Observer
[Note: After this letter was published, the New Mexico Senate and House passed the bill, titled “School-Based Health Centers] on a party-line vote with support from only two Republicans.]
Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature agree that good physical and mental health is essential for successful learning. The bipartisan vote in the Senate Education Committee to codify school-based health centers (SB 397) sends this clear message with one notable exception — Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho).
As the former vice president of the Rio Rancho School Board, Brandt should understand the undeniable educational and social benefits of good physical and mental health.
Access to primary, preventive and behavioral health services improves students’ well-being and educational outcomes. School-based health centers are the most common way children and adolescents access the mental health system, and they are critical for helping vulnerable students in rural and other medically underserved areas of New Mexico.
It is shocking that Brandt, a member of the clergy, a disabled veteran and a father of three, cannot find the compassion to help children in physical and mental distress gain access to a proven health care approach.
Brandt argues that the Legislature continues to expand what schools are responsible for, distracting them from education. But as Brandt well knows, the bill would impose no additional burdens on schools. Whether and how to offer school-based health care is left to the discretion of each school district.
Rather than help children get the health care services they need, Brandt prefers to spend precious legislative resources introducing a dead-on-arrival Education Freedom Accounts bill to fund attendance at private schools. The Legislative Education Study Committee found that Brandt’s bill potentially violates four provisions of New Mexico’s constitution including the prohibition against state funding for religious or private schools.
Instead of seeking ways to siphon money from the state treasury and undermine public education, Brandt should join Democrats and fellow Republicans in affirming students’ access to the basic human right of health care.