Policy Matters Blog

Hill Day Prep: Getting to Know the Shortages Bills

With less than a week remaining until our virtual Capitol Hill day, you can stay ahead of the curve by familiarizing yourself with NASP’s key legislative priorities relating to school psychology shortages. While you don’t need to memorize the finer details of these bills and appropriations requests, it is helpful to have a general understanding of what these bills would accomplish and why they’re important. You can find detailed information about these bills on Congress.gov or through the website of the members sponsoring each bill. But to save you some time, I’ve summarized the basics of each bill for your convenience below. Additional information to help you nail your Hill meetings can be found in our 2021 talking points.  

S. 1811/ H.R.3572– Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act

Sponsors: Senator Jon Tester (D-MT); Representative Judy Chu (D-CA-27) 

What the bill does: This bill, if enacted, would provide grants to create community partnerships between local education agencies and universities. These partnerships will help train, recruit, and retain school psychologists, school social workers, and school counselors in high-need districts experiencing critical shortages. The legislation further directs the U.S. Department of Education to establish a loan forgiveness program for school mental health providers who serve in areas with significant need. 

Why it matters: Left unaddressed, mental health problems interfere with learning, behavior, social engagement, overall well-being, and sometimes physical safety. One in five students will experience a mental health problem that requires support, yet approximately 80% of them will not receive the necessary services. Of those who do receive services, the vast majority access them at school. Research shows that students are more likely to receive mental health services if they are offered at school—especially in low-income communities. Unfortunately, we have a critical shortage of school psychologists and other school-employed mental health professionals that prevents many students from receiving the mental health supports they need to thrive and succeed in school, at home, and in life. This legislation is a critical step toward addressing the shortage and improving access to services. 

H.R. 4198– Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act 

Sponsors: Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1); To be introduced by Senator Jeanne  Shaheen (D-NH) 

What the bill does: This bill, if enacted, would provide matching grants between the Department of Education and eligible graduate institutions to cover the cost of attendance for students who commit to 5 years of service in the field, postgraduation. The Department may contribute up to 50% of the cost of attendance for a participating student, of which the graduate institution would match the other 50%. 

Why it matters: Like the Improving Access to Mental Health in Schools Act, this bill would increase the number of school-based mental health professionals, thus improving access to school mental health services for America's children and youth. Providing access to mental and behavioral health services in schools makes them safer, promotes student well-being, and improves learning outcomes.  

To be introduced later this year – Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act 

Sponsors: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA-5) 

What the bill does: This bill, if enacted, would provide grants to states to help ensure that every school can meet the school psychologist/counselor/social worker to student ratios.  

Why it matters: Youth with access to mental health services providers in their school are 10 times more likely to seek care than youth without access. But school districts across America lack the investment and resources to provide students with the necessary in-school treatment and care they need. Youth with mental illness often find themselves waiting for months to receive mental health careleaving too many families worried about their children’s safety and well-being. The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act would help ensure that students receive the mental care and support they need in school so that they can focus on what is most important: learning and achieving their potential. 

Appropriations request 

Request: Support $1 billion in funding for the School Safety National Activities program, with the increase specifically designated for a new round of grants that both address the shortages in school psychology: the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant and the School Based Mental Health Services Grant Program. 

What these programs do: The Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program School provides competitive grants to support and demonstrate innovative partnerships to train school-based mental health service providers for employment in schools and local educational agencies (LEAs). 

The purpose of the School-Based Mental Health Services Grants program is to provide competitive grants to State educational agencies to increase the number of qualified mental health service providers that provide school-based mental health services to students in local educational agencies with demonstrated need. 

Why they should support this request: Our proposed funding request would allow for the continuation of existing grantees, as well as allow for a new competition to increase access to qualified school mental health professionals in high need districts. We need school-based mental health professionals trained to address students’ behavioral and social needs, improve school climate, and address school safety concerns. Current grantees have used their funds to hire additional school psychologists, social workers, and counselors; provide stipends for travel and healthcare to interns; increase professional development and training capacity; and expand access to mental health services for students.  

Now that you know the basics to these legislative priorities, you can speak effectively to the purpose of and need for Congress to act swiftly in addressing the shortages. One way to knock these meetings out of the park, though, is to bring in your own personal stories and relevant district and state data. As a former Hill staffer, I knew that my boss was far more likely to support a bill or appropriations request if I could point to the specific impact it would have on our constituents. If you need help personalizing your messaging, feel free to reach out to me (rmurdoch@naspweb.org), your NASP state leaders, or GPR regional representatives. We’re always happy to point you in the right direction.  

More tips and advice for your legislative advocacy are included in NASP’s Policy Playbook and in a variety of places on our website. We can’t achieve our advocacy goals without you!