Congress Poised to Provide Increased Investments in Education, Mental Health, and School Safety

By: Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, Director, Policy and Advocacy

On Tuesday, September 18th, the Senate passed legislation that provides funding for FY2019 for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. It is widely expected that the House will follow suit when they return next week.  Key highlights from the spending bill are described below.  For more information, you can read the complete legislative text or you can read the Statement of Managers, which provides additional explanation of Congressional intent for the use of funds.

This legislation provides meaningful investments to help schools meet the needs of all students and includes slight increases for both Title 1 of ESSA and IDEA. These funds will help ensure that our nation's most vulnerable students, those living in poverty and those with disabilities have access to the supports they need to be successful in school.  To be sure, Congress has never lived up to their promise to fully fund IDEA. Although this modest increase in funding is welcome it is not enough and we will continue to press Congress to live up to the promise made when the law was passed in 1975. 

Across the country, districts and states are engaged in robust conversations about how to best: create safe and supportive learning environments; prevent school and community violence;  prevent suicide; increase access to comprehensive school mental and behavioral health services; and reduce the ratios of school psychologists and other school employed mental health professionals.  Addressing these complex and important goals is not the sole responsibility of Congress and the federal government and will require action, and financial investment, at the federal, state, and local level.  However, we applaud Congress for including a number of provisions that will help promote a strong system of public education; promote efforts to create safe schools and communities; and address the mental health needs of children and youth including: 

  • $15.9 billion for Title I to help meet the needs of low income students
  • $2.05 billion for Title II to support effective instruction and provide high quality professional development to school staff
  • $12.4 billion for IDEA State Grants to help meet the needs of students with disabilities
  • $1.17 billion for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant. Funding at this level will allow states and districts to make meaningful investments in critical programs including improving access to comprehensive school mental health services; improving the ratios of school psychologists and other school employed mental health professionals; improving school safety and preventing school violence. 
  • $95 million for Safe and Drug Free Schools National Activities. These funds will be used to expand evidence-based programs to ensure safe learning environments for students and educators, including improving school climates, preventing violence in schools, and providing services in response to serious incidents.  $5 million of these funds are reserved for Project SERV, which helps schools recover after events of violence.  Importantly, and thanks to your advocacy, $10 million may be used to pilot and evaluate a demonstration grant to create university-district partnerships to help address the shortages in school psychology.
  • $75 million for Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Grants and 18 million for Mental and Behavioral Health Education training.  The funds are intended to help recruit and train mental and behavioral health professionals, including school psychologists.
  • $71 million for Project Aware. This program raises awareness of mental health issues and connects young people experiencing behavioral health issues, as well as their families, with needed services. $10 million must be used to support efforts in communities that are seeking to address civil unrest, community violence, and collective trauma.
  • $4 million for mental health services unaccompanied alien children, with a special focus on children who were separated from a parent or family unit (see NASP's statement about separating children from their parents at the border here)
  • $12 Million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • $35.4 million for Garret Lee Smith Suicide Prevention State Grants to support suicide prevention activities including education, training programs and screening activities

This legislation also includes significant funds spread across various agencies within the Department of Health and Human services to address the opioid epidemic. Some of these funds are explicitly intended to help improve access to mental health services in affected communities, and school districts will be eligible for some funding.  Further, there are additional school safety and education related programs that are funded by other agencies and NASP will keep you informed of their funding status as additional spending legislation progresses through the legislative process.

As applications for these various grants become available NASP will share information via InBrief and the Member Exchange.  If you have any questions about these or other federal funding streams, please contact Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach (kvaillancourt@naspweb.org), NASP Director of Policy and Advocacy.