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How to Be SMART Like Us
We've had some great wins in Michigan this year! On July 25, 2022, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the School Psychologists Student Mental Health Apprenticeship Program for Retention and Training (SMART) bill into law after it unanimously passed the Michigan Senate and passed the House 93-12. The SMART Program provides financial support to encourage more people to enter school-based mental health professions through paid work experience and practicum opportunities for school psychology graduate students. This was a big win for school psychology in Michigan, and we at the Michigan Association of School Psychologists want to share how we helped make it happen!
1. Find and Build a Coalition
In June 2019, the School Based Mental Health Coalition (SBMHC) was formed in Michigan. This group consisted of board members from school-based mental health professional groups, including school psychologists. The SBMHC was created to raise awareness about mental health concerns in youth and help address the shortage of school-based mental health professionals. We used the NASP Practice Model to show how to provide comprehensive mental health services and held large statewide meetings with school resource officers, the Michigan Department of Education, private practitioners, academics, and fellow school mental health professionals. Our coalition's work doing this, as well as our creation of a return to school tool kit, strengthened the relationship between school social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists. We all proudly collaborated to create the Student Mental Health Apprenticeship Program for Retention and Training legislation. Working as a team helped strengthen our advocacy related to the SMART Bill and the future of all our professions.
2. Gather Data and Information
With our coalition in place, it was time to gather as much data and information as possible about the shortage of school psychologists in our state. Along with having our key messages about the impact of shortages on our schools, MASP created a job database to track the number of unfilled positions across the state of Michigan and help advertise school psychologist jobs. Doing this allowed us to do a temperature check of our profession and get key data that proved vital in our fight for SMART. We found in our meetings with legislators that this data was powerful in moving the legislation forward because it outlined the number of students who were missing key mental health support in the school and underscored the need for strengthening the pipeline of school-based mental health staff.
3. Promote the NASP Exposure Project
Next, MASP set a goal to do a NASP Exposure Project presentation at every 4-year college in Michigan to expose undergraduate students, especially those from diverse backgrounds, to school psychology as a career. Based on our records, 1,100 students participated in this effort during the 2021–2022 school year. In our meetings with legislators, we were able to share the work that we had done with the NASP Exposure Project. They were very impressed by the project and resources provided by NASP (check out the NASP Policy Playbook), and Chairman Curt VanderWall of the Committee on Health Policy and Human Services indicated that the NASP Exposure Project, along with funding through the SMART Program, would be a great asset in increasing the number of school psychologists for our state.
4. Grow Your Own Support
After we wrote the legislative proposal in June of 2021, we led a "Grow Your Own" webinar for Michigan school trainers, Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education, and MASP. Our presentation gave an overview of the Grow Your Own concept and increased its popularity in Michigan. We also had several additional meetings with Michigan school psychology trainers to ensure that they understood the Grow Your Own program and were supportive of the concept. After the webinars, many school districts funded Grow Your Own positions. The legislators we met with also appreciated that the Grow Your Own program gained so much popularity prior to the passing of the SMART Bill. It is always easier to pass good, SMART legislation when it's popular, too! You can find model legislation (DOCX) to develop a pipeline of qualified school psychologists to high needs districts and to help recruit and retain school psychologists on NASP's website so you can create your own legislative proposal in your state.
In our meetings with legislators, we made sure to bring along some of their constituents! We did this by including MASP board members who were constituents of the legislators we were meeting with. We also invited a SPED director who runs a Grow Your Own program in the area that was served by Chairman VanderWall. We found this to be helpful, as the legislators appreciate the connection with their constituents and local school districts. Additionally, our SBMHC came in handy yet again and increased our advocacy strength because all the organizations have a paid lobbyist. We ultimately had three lobbyists working on the legislation, along with all the leaders, members, and supporters of our organizations.
Our hard work paid off, and we were able to secure a great investment in the future of school psychology and other school-based mental health professions! We believe that your state associations can join us in passing SMART legislation by following the same path we did or creating your own. We recommend starting by watching this webinar to review resources available on the NASP website that can help you address school psychology shortages in your state. Whatever you do, MASP is rooting for you!