By Corinne Murdock |
On Monday, the Biden administration announced that Mohave Valley Elementary School District received over $586,000 for mental health program funding. The funds will pay for up to 22 new positions.
This latest round of funding was part of over $95 million issued across 35 states. In total, the Department of Education (ED) has awarded $286 million to 264 grantees in 48 states for mental health programs.
The funding originated from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) enacted last June as part of the Biden administration’s National Mental Health Strategy. The BSCA’s primary initial purpose was to reduce gun violence in schools and surrounding communities.
Last September, the Biden administration issued nearly $1 billion through BSCA for more mental health program funding. Arizona received an allocation of over $20.8 million.
The Biden administration also issued $122 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to hire more school psychologists, counselors, and mental health professionals in K-12 schools. ED reported that, compared to pre-pandemic staffing numbers, school social workers have increased by 48 percent, school counselors have increased by 10 percent, school nurses have increased 42 percent, and school psychologists have increased 10 percent.
The Biden administration earmarked these funds for “high-need” local education agencies (LEAs), such as those with high rates of poverty as well as high student-to-mental health professional ratio, high rates of chronic absenteeism, exclusionary discipline (e.g. suspension, expulsion, seclusion, or restraint), referrals to the juvenile justice system, bullying or harassment, community and school violence, or substance use. High-need could also include those who experienced a natural or man-made disaster, or a traumatic event.
Buried within the ED guidance on usage of these funds, the agency encouraged a total overhaul of traditional disciplinary practices.
“Rather than focusing on changing behavior through punishment or removal from the learning environment, school leaders should consider adopting practices that will help educators support students by identifying the root cause of the behavior and developing effective strategies to eliminate or mitigate it,” stated ED. “Building a school culture of curiosity and growth mindset that prioritizes solution-based thinking may encourage pro-social behavior.”
Some of the punishment alternatives included “art program, mindfulness, and body movement activities.” ED also suggested that non-violent behavior be met with conflict resolution training and programs rather than exclusionary discipline.
The Biden administration left it up to each state’s education authority to determine what constituted “high need.” However, the administration noted that the state may require LEAs to describe how they promote meaningful cultural and linguistic engagement. ED further noted that school-based violence prevention programs must be “culturally affirming” in addition to supporting positive relationships, resilience, self-control, empathy, and persistence.
“SEAs may also require LEAs to describe their process for meaningful culturally and linguistically centered student, parent, family, educator, staff, and community engagement and evidence of how that engagement informed their school safety and climate plans, related policies, and strategies,” stated ED.
The ED noted that the permitted use of funds wasn’t limited to improving students’ mental health. ED noted that permitted fund usage included educator and school staff surveys, convenings, and educator outreach efforts.
ED also encouraged funds to be used to prevent and address identity-based bullying. The Biden administration now recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under anti-discrimination law.