AFSA Lobbying Lawmakers for Student Mental Health Resources

Concerned about the severe shortages of school-based mental health professionals (school psychologists, school counselors and school social workers) and other specialized instructional support personnel in a time of growing need in our classrooms, AFSA has been lobbying in Washington, D.C., and signed on to a letter supporting increasing the funding streams to make sure the needed resources are available to all children across the nation as they head back to school.

In a letter sent to the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, the education groups wrote:

“We ask that you fund the Safe Schools National Activities Program at $606 million dollars to allow for new competitions in two existing grant programs critical to addressing the shortage of school mental health professionals and increasing access to these vital school-based services: the School Based Mental Health Services Professional Demonstration Grant and the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program. This funding level represents a $500 million dollar increase over FY21 levels. We also request that you fund the personnel development grants (IDEA Part D Section 662) at $300 million. This program is designed to increase the pipeline of well-prepared special education teachers, leaders, early interventionists, administrators, school employed mental health professionals and specialized instructional support personnel.

“Combined, these three competition grants address the critical shortage of school-based mental health professionals and other specialized instructional support personnel in two distinct and essential ways: by increasing the available workforce, and by helping districts support increased positions to improve access to services. Given the critical impact of COVID-19 on students, especially students from vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities, students of color, and LGBTQ students — in terms of both academics and social/emotional/mental well-being — and the well documented shortages of such professionals, a targeted and significantly increased federal investment in each of these three programs is vital.

“Even prior to COVID-19, significant need existed among students for mental health services, while schools faced critical shortages of open positions and qualified practitioners, which includes school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers. School communities are additionally in need of graduate education programs and faculty needed to train the workforce necessary to keep up with the growing student population. The pandemic further exacerbated these disparities. As schools reopen and efforts are underway to meet the academic needs of students, capacity to address their mental and emotional well-being is imperative.  Increasing the amount of school-based mental health professionals will be critical to these efforts. One in five students will experience a mental and behavioral health concern and research shows that students are more likely to receive mental health supports if they are offered at school. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of one school psychologist per 500 students.  The American School Counselor Association and the School Social Work Association of America recommend a ratio of 1:250; however, national ratios for all professions are more than double what is recommended.

“Comprehensive school mental and behavioral health service delivery systems promote wellness, resiliency, skill building, and self-advocacy skills. Adequate access to school-employed mental health professionals improves delivery and integration of school-wide programming to foster positive school climate, prevent violence, and balance physical and psychological safety. Without a highly qualified workforce of school-employed mental health professionals, schools lack the capacity to provide comprehensive social and emotional learning and mental, behavioral, and academic interventions and supports. Qualified school-employed mental health providers help identify students who may need more intensive services or those who require immediate intervention and provide coordination with community providers for specific students. Importantly, ongoing access to mental health services promotes school safety by helping to create a positive learning environment in which students feel connected to their school community.”