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Shaheen Leads Bipartisan Introduction of New Legislation to Address Shortage of Mental Health Providers in Schools

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in the introduction of new bipartisan legislation, the Mental Health Excellence in Schools Act. This bipartisan bill addresses the shortage of mental health providers in schools by authorizing the Department of Education to partner with higher education institutions to help cover students’ costs at relevant graduate programs. The legislation would boost the pipeline of graduate students trained to become school psychologists, counselors and social workers responding to the youth mental health crisis that’s been worsened by the pandemic.

“The pandemic put a spotlight on just how many students across New Hampshire and the nation struggle with isolation, depression and mental health challenges. We need mental health professionals in schools equipped to counsel students and help them heal from trauma. Unfortunately, we don’t have a strong pipeline of mental health providers, leaving many kids and teenagers vulnerable and without the help they need,” said Shaheen. “That’s why I’m introducing new bipartisan legislation to invest in the next generation of mental health professionals serving in schools. By helping more students afford graduate programs centered on school-based mental health, we can attract more workers to this critical field. The mental health crisis isn’t going away, and it’s past time we dedicate resources and energy towards holistically helping those in need. We owe it to our children to empower them with tools to heal and succeed.”

“Access to critical mental health resources in schools is important for the safety, well-being, and academic performance of Hoosier students,” said Senator Young. “The Mental Health Excellence in Schools Act will help address the severe shortage of mental health professionals by partnering with graduate schools to increase education and participation in the school-based mental health workforce.”

“The pandemic has put an even greater spotlight on some of the many struggles students face with mental health. Each and every day, students are confronting stresses and challenges that they are too often forced to confront alone. We must ensure that students – along with teachers, school staff, and families – have the support they need to overcome mental health challenges,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense legislation will help address the shortage of mental health professionals in our schools – so that students in Michigan and across the country can safely turn to someone they can trust for help.”

“Our children are the future, and their mental wellbeing is vital for their academic achievement. In North Dakota, there’s approximately one school psychologist per 1,692 students, which is much higher than the recommended ratio. Our students deserve a safe and supportive learning environment. The Mental Health Excellence in Schools Act addresses the current shortage of school-based mental health providers to ensure students have access to resources to succeed in and out of the classroom,” said Senator Cramer

“Our students need more support than ever, but without enough school psychologists and other school-based mental health providers our schools aren’t equipped to meet their growing needs. We are thrilled to see the bipartisan Senate introduction of the Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act and thank Senator Shaheen, Young, Peters, and Cramer for their leadership on this critical issue,” said Dr. Kathleen Minke, Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of one school psychologist per 500 students. However, the national average ratio is estimated to be approximately one school psychologist per 1,200 students, with wide variation among states.

The Mental Health Excellence in Schools Act seeks to increase the recruitment and retention of mental health services providers in schools. The legislation creates a program for the Department of Education to partner with eligible graduate institutions to cover up to the full cost of school-based mental health graduate programs for students at eligible institutions.

Similar companion bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

Full text of the bill is available here.

Shaheen is a leader in the Senate working to shine light on the mental health crisis. Shaheen has fought to secure funding for mental health care and substance misuse services during the pandemic, including $4.25 billion in funding through last year’s emergency COVID relief legislation and nearly $4 billion through the American Rescue Plan. She’s also hosted virtual discussions on the youth and teen mental health epidemic, and she invited Maureen O’Dea, President of the New Hampshire School Counselors Association and Director of School Counseling at Londonderry High School, as her virtual guest to President Biden’s joint address to Congress last year to highlight the need to address teen mental health challenges. Shaheen also previously cosponsored the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act, to increase the availability of mental health resources in America’s public schools. Last month, Shaheen sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona calling on the Department to strengthen federal support for teachers and staff to assist students experiencing mental health challenges. Shaheen also helped provide $111 million for school-based mental health services through the FY22 omnibus passed into last week.