The people want education money spent on counseling, advising

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OLYMPIA — More than 30,000 people around Washington weighed in, and they said that mental health resources should be among the top priorities for school funding.

This past spring, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction organized a survey to learn about the public’s priorities for schools.

The survey presented 15 options such as reducing class sizes, adding technology and expanding early learning. It asked people to rank how important each was to them.

“Student support services,” defined as counseling, advising and mental health, solidly took first place, according to the results.

School safety improvements, better buildings, incentives to recruit and keep teachers, and more technical and work-based learning opportunities also ranked high.

The lowest ranked suggestion was having chances for students to learn a second language as young as kindergarten.

Two-thirds of survey respondents said they work in K-12 education. Nearly 13,400 of them were teachers.

Now, a second survey is open to see how the public would divvy up tax dollars for education. Participants are asked how they would spend $500 million among the top priorities decided by the first survey. The survey is available in English and Spanish, and other languages by request. It closes at 5 p.m. Sept. 12.

The plan is to use the results to help draft budget requests to be submitted to Gov. Jay Inslee later this month, according to OSPI. The requests would include expenses that are not fully covered by the state dollars lawmakers have pledged for basic education.

Local district leaders previously shared concerns that the state’s definition of basic education does not cover all of the necessities. In discussions about levy requests earlier this year, multiple districts noted that they use local levy dollars to pay for full-time counselors at schools.

“These results have made it even more clear how important it is for our schools to be able to address the mental health needs of our students,” state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in a news release.

Reykdal noted the loss of students to suicide as one reason more resources are essential.

“We must do everything we can to equip our schools with the tools they need to fight this mental health crisis,” he said.

Regional responses to the first survey — from Olympia up to Bellingham — show that locals ranked student support as their highest priority, matching statewide input.

However, locals differed from statewide results in that they were more worried about reducing class sizes than about financial incentives for teachers. They also felt more strongly that school funding should go toward programs to support students with disabilities and address racial disparities.