Bill and Budget Explainer: School-based Mental Health Services11 Comments
Virginia is poised to make significant progress in children’s mental health during the 2023 legislative session. Virginia ranked as 48th in Youth Mental Health access according to Mental Health America and recommendations were identified by JLARC in their report Pandemic Impact on K-12 Public Education. School-based mental health services are an integral component to address the youth mental health crisis as schools are often where children and youth form positive and trusting relationships with adults and peers to address their needs. However, we have seen too many incidents where schools are not fully equipped to address mental health needs of students. We also must look to the future where federal ESSER funds that have boosted school-based mental health responses are scheduled to end.
Actions taken by the General Assembly in recent years to improve the ratio of counselors to students, create school-based mental health integration programs, seek the reversal of the “free care rule” to bill Medicaid for school-based services, integrate mental health into Standards of Learning and regional Recovery High Schools have created the positive momentum for further action this year. In addition, we have seen the expansion of federal grants included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and recent guidance from the Centers on Medicaid and Medicare Administration to leverage Medicaid to pay for school-based services. Read more about Medicaid funding for school-based services here.
Legislation Considered by Education Committees
SB1043 (McPike) | HB2124 (Wilt) | HB2187 (Rasoul) – School mental health and counseling, definitions, licensure requirements – SUPPORT
The Senate version of this legislation incorporates the two policy changes in the House bills to refine the roles of school counselors and to provide flexibility in staffing for school psychologists. To help improve coordination of services, the Senate version also includes a directive to the Department of Education (DOE) to work with Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to develop a model Memorandum of Understanding for school-based partnerships with community-based mental health providers.
SB1300 (Deeds) – Elementary & secondary school teachers, public: requirements, trauma-informed care training – SUPPORT
This Senate bill outlines a training program for classroom teachers to receive training every three years developed by the DBHDS related to recognizing and addressing childhood trauma. This bill was conceived by a youth advocate, Elijah Lee. A budget amendment in the Senate budget provides funds to DBHDS to develop the training.
SB1325 (McClellan) – Standards of Quality Specialized Support Positions – SUPPORT
While there is shared interest in building on the Standards of Quality in the General Assembly, SB1325 that has passed the Senate and is being considered in the House specifically addresses the specialized student support positions (school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, licensed behavior analysts, licensed assistant behavior analysts, and other licensed health and behavioral positions) intended to address student mental health and behavior supports. The budget conference committee negotiators should include $57 million in additional resources to improve the ratio of specialized student support personnel.
SB818 (Spruill) – Programs of instruction on mental health education – SUPPORT
This legislation adds additional specificity to the 2018 legislation that added mental health to the physical and health education Standards of Learning. This legislation outlines more specific curriculum guidelines to improve technical guidance to school divisions for age-appropriate sequential instruction and for local school boards to develop and implement policies related to mental health instruction.
Budget Amendments Considered by House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services/Department of Education
School Based Mental Health Integration Grants
Last year, the General Assembly approved the first state-funded school-based mental health integration grants allowing DBHDS to offer grants to school divisions to expand school-based mental health services and community partnerships. Lawmakers should encourage DOE and DBHDS to collaborate on these efforts and should help define the roles for each agency. DOE should have oversight for school division implementation and DBHDS should provide expertise on mental health services. In comparison, federal efforts for school-based mental health services are designed as a collaboration among Education and Health and Human Services. For example, both DBHDS and DOE have been awarded additional resources under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to implement school-based mental health services.
- Recommendation: Establish grant funds at both DBHDS and DOE to leverage the expertise of DOE and DBHDS to expand school-based mental health partnerships. The General Assembly should create two grant funds this year of up to $15 million at both the DOE and DBHDS with specialized focus areas that utilize existing partnerships and centers of excellence. The focus of DBHDS should be on clinical expertise for developmental practice, screening and assessment tools, integration with community violence and substance abuse prevention services, and evidence-informed practices for mental-health treatment services in school-based settings. The focus of DOE should be on expanding the use of school-based mental health professionals, providing technical assistance for collaboration among school-based professionals (VPSMH), and integration with the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS).
Department of Education
Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS)
The House and Senate budgets both include additional funding to expand the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support in conjunction with recommendations from the Behavioral Health Commission. Currently, 58 school divisions participate in VTSS and have reported declines in school discipline referrals and school suspension. The Senate budget includes $1.5 million and the House includes $500,000 to expand VTSS.
School Safety and Security Funding
The House and Senate budgets both include additional resources to improve school safety and security. However, in light of several incidents of violence on school campus, or within a school community, such as the incidents at Richneck Elementary, we recommend that the purpose of these funds be expanded to not only to make school environments secure, but to also help respond to schools and communities when violence occurs.