Because of limited resources in the Nebraska Panhandle to detect and treat mental illness in school-aged children, Sen. John Stinner of Gering is calling for a regional day treatment center.

To accomplish that, Stinner introduced Legislative Bill 801, which would create a pilot project named Panhandle Beginnings.

Children from elementary, junior high and high school could attend a day program and get the help they aren’t able to get in the classroom.

Stinner said the idea for the bill began in his district by Educational Service Unit No. 13 (ESU 13).

The head of ESU 13, Jeff West, along with Scottsbluff school superintendent Rick Myles, met and talked about what they saw in their schools.

ESU 13 has a broad perspective. It covers 11 school districts in the Panhandle.

Both West and Myles agreed that there is help for students with mental illnesses, but it isn’t as specialized as they need.

“They’re seeing a lot of behavioral health issues,” Stinner said. “And behavioral issues being defined as a kid (who) will do himself or other people harm. This is at the grade school level, too, not just confined to the older kids.”

Stinner wants to address specialized programs for students.

“The bottom line is kids with all of these mental and behavioral problems really need specialized help,” Stinner said. “The kids that identify with these issues will sit down with our teachers and their parents and help create a program that is just for them and then work at the day center to execute that plan on a daily basis.”

The bill calls for an appropriation of $433,668 per fiscal year, after its initial start-up, to fund Panhandle Beginnings.

Stinner said that over a long period of time, it will pay for itself, mainly because school districts will be sending kids over and paying a fee that’s equitable for what they get.

The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, Stinner said.

Linda Hoke, a retired teacher in Scottsbluff, supports the bill and Stinner’s efforts.

“I taught at Morrill Elementary for over 30 years,” Hoke said. “I agree with this bill and I think it’s a great opportunity for students. They need this.”

Hoke retired in 2013, but still is a substitute teacher in the district.

“We just can’t give those kids and the kids that don’t have issues what they need,” she said. “I think that this is a really great opportunity for the kids that need the special help and attention. This could be where they get it.”

LB 801 was referred to the Education Committee, which scheduled a hearing for Monday, Feb. 12.