Nearly $300 million in New Grants Aim to Bolster Mental Health Services in Schools

Schools can access funding for mental health services through two new US Department of Education grants that aim to build a pipeline of support in schools, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to address mental health challenges resulting from the pandemic.

The Education Department announced the new grants alongside the White House on Friday. Funded by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the $1.5 trillion fiscal 2022 spending package, the grants will offer nearly $300 million in total for mental health support in schools.

The new Education Department grants come after two school years that have been particularly damaging for student mental health. More than 40 percent of students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness in the 12 months prior to January through June 2021, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. And in a 2021 American Psychiatric Association poll, more than 50 percent of adults with children under 18 in their homes said they were concerned about the mental state of their children during the pandemic.

Money bolsters the pipeline of mental health providers in schools

The grants aim to tackle student mental health challenges by addressing staffing shortages within schools. While the National Association of School Psychologists recommends that schools maintain a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students, data suggest the national ratio is one psychologist to every 1,200 students, according to the association. However, there is great variability among states with some states approaching a ratio of one psychologist to every 5,000 students.

The first of the two Education Department grants, titled the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant, will provide over $140 million to “support a strong pipeline into the mental health profession,” according to a White House fact sheet.

The grant will help fund school efforts to recruit and train quality school-based mental health professionals. Schools will also be able to use the money to provide “culturally and linguistically inclusive and identity safe environments for students,” administration officials said during a Thursday news conference about the initiatives. The money will also help diversify the school-based mental health professional workforce, administration officials said.

The second Education Department grant, titled School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program, will provide $140 million to schools and states to support efforts to increase the number of qualified school-based mental health providers. The grant is aimed at increasing the number of school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals serving students.

The Education Department will release proposed rulemaking related to the grants in the coming months, administration officials said. The rulemaking will provide more information on how the grants can be used and which schools will be prioritized for funding.

White House highlights other efforts to support student mental health

In addition to the new grant programs, the Biden administration also sent a letter sent to governors Friday, highlighting ways in which they can invest in mental health services for students.

The letter, signed by US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, previewed upcoming guidance on how states can leverage Medicaid funding to deliver mental health services to students, according to the fact sheet.

Over the next few weeks, the White House said, the Health and Human Services Department will also be evaluating applications for $7 million in grants for education activities designed to help students access trauma support services and mental health care.

The administration has also increased funding for the Education Department’s Full-Service Community Schools Program, which awards $68 million to schools that provide wraparound services including mental health care. The Biden administration proposed to dedicate $468 million to the program in the fiscal 2023 budget.

And the Education Department will be awarding $5 million to school districts through its Project Prevent program, which provides grants to help districts implement strategies to mitigate community violence and its impacts on students.

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