Wexton Leads Call for Increased Funding to Address Shortage of School-Based Mental Health Professionals
Washington, March 13, 2020
Washington, DC -- Today, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) led 69 of her colleagues in a bipartisan letter to congressional appropriators requesting additional funding for federal grants that help address the shortage of school-based mental health professionals. The increase in funding would create more opportunities for school districts across the country, and throughout the Commonwealth, to connect their students with comprehensive mental and behavioral health supports.
March 13, 2020
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro The Honorable Tom Cole
As you develop the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bill for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, we encourage you to help decrease the high student-to-counselor ratios in our nation’s schools by addressing the shortage of school-based mental health professionals like school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers. We ask that you fund the Safe Schools National Activities Program at $115 million dollars to allow for a new competition in two grant programs critical to addressing the shortage of school mental health professionals and increasing access to these vital school-based services. This funding level represents a $10 million dollar increase over FY20 levels.
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA) was previously authorized as a national discretionary grant program focused on drug, violence, and bullying prevention and school-based mental health services. For more than a decade, only the national programs have been funded. Now referred to as School Safety National Activities (SSNA), these funds are used for state and local school safety and violence prevention activities in grades K-12 and in institutions of higher education.
There is currently a shortage of school-based mental health professionals in our country. National mental health organizations recommend a ratio of one school counselor and one school social worker for every 250 students, and a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500-700 students, respectively. Unfortunately, across each profession, the national ratio is more than double the recommendation, with some states faring even worse. As a result, there has been an increase in bullying and suicide amongst our nation’s students, and many have limited or no access to mental health services.
In both FY19 and FY20, Congress directed the Department of Education to set aside up to $10 million to development and implement a Mental Health Demonstration Grant to help improve the pipeline of school-based mental health providers to high need school districts. Recognizing the increased need for school-based mental health services, in FY20, Congress provided an additional $10 million for a new competition which would provide awards to SEAs, LEAs, or consortia of LEAs to increase the number of qualified, well-trained counselors, social workers, psychologists, or other mental health professionals that provide school-based mental health services to students. The call for applications is expected in the near future. Combined, these two competition grants address the critical shortage of school-based mental health professionals in two distinct and essential ways: by increasing the available workforce, and by helping districts support increased positions to improve access to services.
We also urge the inclusion of report language, specifying the $10 million dollar increase to the Safe Schools National Activities Program must be directed toward new competitions of the Mental Health Demonstration Grant and the Mental Health Personnel Grant:
With the goal of addressing the shortage of school-based mental health professionals in our nation’s K-12 schools by expanding the pipeline of these professionals and improving districts’ ability to recruit and retrain these professionals, the Committee directs the Secretary to allocate $10 million dollars for additional competitions of the Mental Health Demonstration Grant and the Mental Health Personnel Grant to increase the number of well-trained school counselors, social workers, and psychologists, or other mental health professionals qualified to provide school-based mental health services.
Integrating mental health services in schools has helped both students and staff succeed by addressing issues such as bullying, self-esteem, and suicide while improving the school’s capacity to identify, refer, and provide services to help students in need. School-based mental health professionals have been proven to improve staff retention, help keep students in school, and promote learning environments where students feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.
In order to support the increased need for comprehensive mental and behavioral health services, and the availability of school-based mental health professionals, we must continue to provide robust federal investments to help high needs districts recruit and retain well-trained, highly qualified mental health professionals. For these reasons, we urge Congress to fund the Safe Schools National Activities Program at $115million, with $10 million specifically provided for new competitions in these critical grant programs.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to working with you to make sure students in every community are supported to reach their maximum potential.