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The American Rescue Plan Act – What Does this Mean for the Funding of School Mental Health Services?
Purpose of the American Rescue Plan Act
On March 11, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act was passed to provide $166 billion to elementary, secondary, and higher education through the Education Stabilization Fund. Out of these funds, $122.7 billion is directed towards elementary and secondary education, and $2.75 billion is directed towards governors to disperse to nonpublic schools with a significant percentage of low-income students that have emergency need. These supports are intended to address the increased disparities to children and youth from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act prioritizes the needs of students who are most impacted, including students experiencing homelessness, students in low-income households and foster care, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students of racial and ethnic minorities. School psychologists have the distinct experience and skill set to ensure that schools receive these funds to best help their students. You can view the bill in its entirety online here and read a summary of its provisions in a previous Policy Matters blog post here.
The State of School Mental Health Services
Prior to the pandemic, increasing numbers of students in the United States were experiencing mental health concerns. Students from racial and ethnic minorities[i] and LGBTQ+ students[ii] are more at risk for mental health concerns, which can lead to a number of poor outcomes, including self-harm, suicide, and dropout. Mental health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to a large number of students experiencing grief[iii] and losses of physical[iv] and psychological safety[v]. Educators are also experiencing elevated stress from abrupt changes, worry about health, and work-related anxiety.[vi]
The American Rescue Plan Act and Opportunities for School Psychology
There is a significant amount of overlap between this emergency aid and the role of school psychologists. Since we are still in the middle of the pandemic and its ramifications, the lasting effects on schools’ operations, staff/faculty work and well-being, and student academic and mental health outcomes are unknown. Therefore, not only is the focus on funding to improve learning, and mental health in the schools, but also addressing systemic inequities in our education system. There are specific allocated funds within the American Rescue Plan Act to address these issues. These resources can be applied to the school setting through prevention, education, and training in mental health and substance use. This represents a historic investment from the federal government in school mental health and school psychologists must be “at the table” to ensure these resources will be used to support students’ mental health and learning outcomes.
School psychologists should advocate for the use of evidence-based, age appropriate, and norm-referenced mental health assessments and intensive interventions. When advocating for using specific mental health interventions, educators should also give their attention to those that best serve and help the students. Minoritized students, such as students from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, are at higher risk for mental health concerns, so it is important to consider if interventions are best suited (e.g., norm referenced and psychometric data) for your students who have the highest need. This is a critical time for us to advocate and provide evidence-based recommendations to district leaders and administration. These steps could include communication with district supervisors and sending letters or emails to state departments of education or state representatives on House Education subcommittees and including helpful NASP resources like the practice model. NASP has resources that can help, like our Policy Playbook! Now is the time to expand school mental health services, with school psychologists serving as essential facilitators to increasing access for all students. Although these actions can help with current funding for schools’ needs, these action steps can be utilized long term for federal, state, and local education and mental health funding. Consistent support and investment from federal, state, and local government for our students is the goal, and it can be accomplished with collective and planned efforts from school leaders.
[i] Suldo, S. M., & Shaffer, E. J. (2008). Looking beyond psychopathology: The dual-factor model of mental health in youth. School Psychology Review, 37(1), 52–68.
[iv] Baron, E. J., Goldstein, E. G., & Wallace, C. T. (2020). Suffering in silence: How COVID-19 school closures inhibit the reporting of child maltreatment. Journal of public economics, 190. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104258
[v] Green, A., Price-Feeney, M., & Dorison, S. (2020). Implications of COVID-19 for LGBTQ youth mental health and suicide prevention. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/2020/04/03/implications-of-covid-19-for-lgbtq-youth-mental-health-and-suicide-prevention/
[vi] Sanchez, A., & von der Embse, N. (2020). Stress, wellbeing, and support for students & school staff. Policy Brief, 4. https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/anchin_policy_brief/4