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Wrapping Up Our Summer of Advocacy
It’s hard to believe that August is almost here after a summer of nonstop advocacy and policy work. Over the past few months, NASP and the GPR Committee have been working tirelessly to advocate for the profession, solutions to the shortages, school safety, and access to comprehensive school mental health services. You might have seen hints of all the efforts going on behind the scenes in the Policy Matters blog or Advocacy Action Center, but we have so much more to share with you as summer’s end nears and the start of the school year approaches.
Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
On May 24, 2022, there was another horrific school shooting; this time, in Uvalde, TX. This event, which was the deadliest school shooting in decades, occurred just 10 days after a racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, NY. For many of us, this felt like déjà vu; we had seen how this played out before. There would be calls for action, protests, marches, and a slew of policy proposals followed by inaction. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but this time felt different. Turns out it was. By Friday of that week, NASP was actively engaged in conversations with a bipartisan group of Senators and their staff (as well as a handful of key partner organizations) crafting a bill that would actually help prevent gun violence and, most importantly, pass a very divided Congress and be signed into law by the President. This is no easy task, and it was made all the more complicated by mid-term election year politics. Yet, just over 2 weeks later, on June 12, a bipartisan group of Senators announced an agreement on a proposal to improve school safety and prevent gun violence. Within 2 weeks, legislation was written, passed by the Senate and the House, and signed by the President on June 25, 2022. If you don’t know much about how Congress operates, this was fast, especially given the difficult topic of gun safety.
This bill makes key changes to existing gun laws and provides significant investments to support comprehensive school safety, increase access to comprehensive mental health services, and, provides $1 billion to address the shortages of school psychologists and other school mental health professionals via the School Based Mental Health Services Grant Program and the School Based Mental Health Services Professionals Demonstration Grant. (Full text of the bill is here; a brief fact sheet is available here.)
Make no mistake, this significant and meaningful policy is the culmination of years of advocacy and relationship building by NASP leaders, state associations, and individual school psychologists who have helped educate policy makers and the general public about the value and importance of school psychologists. During the month that this legislation was developed and carefully shepherded through the legislative process, NASP members directed more than 8,000 letters and phone calls to members of Congress via our Advocacy Action Center; countless school psychologists who are constituents of key negotiators sent personal emails and made calls; and the mental health, education, and gun violence prevention community banded together and spoke with one voice. This time, our voice was not ignored—it led the conversation.
In fact, when speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the final vote, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the key negotiators specifically mentioned NASP in his remarks, and Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, NASP Director of Policy and Advocacy, was invited to the White House to celebrate the passage of this legislation. Advocacy can be a long slog, and at times it can feel as if you are spinning your wheels without making progress. But every conversation, every interaction, every act of advocacy you engage in builds on the others and, when timing and political will align, success occurs.
We are working with the relevant federal agencies to get a sense of when these funds will become available, and we will share this information as soon as we learn of it.
Federal Appropriations Supporting NASP Priorities
Meanwhile, in late June, the House Appropriations Committee released their FY2023 funding proposal for a host of federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. They soon followed that up with report language clarifying their intentions behind the funding levels. We were not only thrilled to see the House again propose historic education funding levels, but also that they again included $1 billion to address the shortage of school mental health professionals, including school psychologists through two grant programs, mirroring NASP’s FY2023 funding request. (These funds would be in addition to the funds provided in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.) This fact sheet contains an overview of key investments proposed by the House and, we expect, the Senate.
While the Senate has still not released any information about their appropriations process and funding levels, we are hopeful that their bill will follow the House’s lead by providing robust funding for education, and for the two grant programs that will support our efforts to address the shortages: the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant and the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program.
NASP staff have been advocating regularly for our priority funding in the FY2023 bill, but the additional advocacy through the 2022 Advocacy Academy, held July 13–15, is sure to improve our chances of seeing our funding priorities realized. Over 60 Advocacy Academy participants joined NASP and the GPR Committee in learning about, discussing, and advocating for equitable access to school mental health services. This year’s virtual academy featured presentations from Dr. Sharon Hoover, Co-Director of the National Center for School Mental Health, NASP President Dr. Celeste Malone, Dr. Byron McClure, and officials from the U.S. Department of Education. The event culminated with a virtual Hill day, where participants met with their Senators and Representatives to advocate for comprehensive school mental health services and increased access to school psychologists. Participants reported largely positive feedback on our requests, and through these meetings, school psychologists have laid the foundation for a collaborative relationship with key policy makers which will elevate the voice of school psychologists in future policy making. Plans are underway for the 2023 Public Policy Institute, which (hopefully) will be held in person, in Washington, DC. Further details will be available in early 2023.
Actions Within the U.S. Department of Education
Over the last few months, the U.S. Department of Education has issued significant guidance related to avoiding discrimination in school discipline (including the use of seclusion and restraint) especially as it pertains to students with disabilities. In addition, the Department announced their intent to update Section 504 Regulations. NASP gathered feedback from our members as to what changes would improve the implementation and intent of Section 504 and shared those in a listening session with officials from the Office of Civil Rights, as well as in our written comments. We expect a draft of the proposed regulations in the coming months, and we will be seeking additional feedback to inform our response.
The Department is updating regulations for implementation and enforcement of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. NASP, and nearly all major education, mental health, and medical organizations, have long advocated that Title IX include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression—a position affirmed by dozens of court rulings. The proposed rule would formally define sex-based discrimination to include discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and would extend a variety of rights and protections to transgender and gender diverse students. NASP is currently drafting our response to the proposed regulations with specific consideration for how the proposals do or do not align with our policy positions (e.g., Safe Schools for Transgender and Gender Diverse Students).
Education Related Supreme Court Rulings
Not to be left out, the Supreme Court has also been busy this summer, regularly releasing rulings on a variety of hot button issues. Schools were not exempt as SCOTUS handed down rulings on prayer in schools and school choice. In late June, the Court ruled that public schools cannot prevent their employees from conducting a private and personal expression of their religion, even if the public will see them doing so, as was the case with the football coach who prayed after games in view of spectators. The dissenting justices pointed out that the very public nature of the coach’s postgame prayers amounted to an incorporation of a public employee’s personal religious beliefs into a school event and could create subtle pressure that students might face to join public prayers. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent predicts confusion for school administrators in making distinctions about private religious expression when it comes to separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court also ruled in June that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from a state tuition program was discrimination against religion. The program in question uses public money to assist rural families who live far from public schools to attend a private school instead. Chief Justice Roberts’s decision emphasized that any public money that goes to private schools has to be extended to private religious schools as well. While the ruling only affects Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire schools where similar tuition programs exist, it is unclear what the broader implications are on school voucher programs. NASP opposes any educational funding system that funnels public money to pre-K–12 schools that lack public accountability, require the loss or declination of rights afforded to students or families, or enable discriminatory practices (see this resolution for additional detail). We will continue to monitor the implications of this ruling.
Although it has been a very busy summer in the policy world, hopefully you found some time to relax and recharge. In the coming months, NASP will be releasing a suite of updated advocacy resources including our federal policy platform, our Policy Playbook, and other resources to support your efforts to advocate for policy and practices that enable all students to thrive.