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More Funding Needed for Student Mental Health

LANSING –State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel stress the urgency today to adopt Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s budget recommendations for student mental health funding.

Dr. Rice and Director Hertel visited with students, parents, educators, and mental health professionals at Saginaw Intermediate School District to listen and learn about the focus on student mental health by students in schools across Saginaw County. The visit is one in a series of school mental health roundtables held in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Potterville since last month. The Saginaw County Youth Ambassador program* has chosen student mental health as its key focus to address the needs for using state funding included in the governor’s school aid budget recommendations.

These Saginaw County high school students are using their voices to advocate for more mental health education and mental health resource accessibility in schools.

“School districts throughout Michigan, including urban, suburban, and rural districts like there are in Saginaw County, need additional support to work through student mental health challenges that existed pre-pandemic and have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Dr. Rice said.

The governor's recommended budget addresses the health, safety, and wellness of students with an expansion of $361 million for programs to support children’s mental health efforts, including expansion of the TRAILS program, funding for mental health screenings, school-based mental health professionals, school-based mental and physical health efforts, school-based health clinics, and services for children with severe mental health needs.

The Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) work together to assist local school districts in implementing these life-changing programs and services for children and families.

“Every person should have access to behavioral health care, including mental health care, where and when they need it. That is especially true of our children,” said Hertel. “If we want to make sure our kids have the support they need to be as healthy and successful as they can be, it is critical that we invest in improved access to mental health services in Michigan schools.”

Dr. Rice acknowledged that the state House of Representatives did add over $100 million to its initial school aid budget to help address the mental health needs of Michigan students coming out of the pandemic.

“We greatly appreciate the additional funding by the House,” Dr. Rice said. “It’s still not enough, though. We need to pass a state budget that includes the increases for children’s mental health noted in the governor’s budget.”

Dr. Rice said that Michigan has come an enormous way in student mental health funding over the past four years, having gone from no funding for children’s mental health in the state’s school aid act in 2018 and earlier to funding several initiatives to provide school-based services and additional social and mental health care providers.

“We’ve increased by over 600 the numbers of new social workers, school psychologists, nurses, and guidance counselors in awarded districts over the last year,” Dr. Rice said. “We have stood up a Social Emotional Learning/Children’s Mental Health Network in the last year and a half, with leaders from many statewide associations. There has been a tremendous consciousness raising, with many efforts currently underway in local and intermediate school districts across the state.”

MDE is working closely with the Michigan Association of School Psychologists; Michigan Association of School Social Workers; and Michigan Association of School Counselors to develop an electronic platform called the Behavioral Health Learning Community (BHLC). The BHLC will provide on-demand training and other resource materials across the state to those school districts interested in learning more.

Michigan received a National Governors Association grant to seek out student voice in relation to social emotional learning (SEL), and MDE also received a Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant to stand up a community of practice to fund 19 districts to infuse SEL competencies at every level of those districts.

“This is our children’s health and success on the line, and we hope the legislature will work with us to fully fund plans that would create jobs for mental health care professionals and increase access to community- and home-based services,” Hertel said.

As part of the proposal to expand access to community- and home-based behavioral health resources for children and adults, the Fiscal Year 2023 budget recommendations for MDHHS include loan assistance to attract and retain behavioral health professionals. They also include a day treatment program for kids in the child welfare system who are struggling in school and home settings.

The State of Michigan currently funds more than 100 school-based and school-linked child and adolescent health centers that offer an array of physical and mental health services. Governor Whitmer proposes adding 40 more sites that could serve the needs of 20,000 students.

“We need to continue to fund and develop more mental health professionals for support of students and staff in our schools,” Dr. Rice added. “We need to continue to develop the knowledge of students and staff around mental health issues. We need to continue to destigmatize and raise up mental health challenges. To paraphrase a member of our network, ‘We as adults often have trouble talking about mental health. Our children don’t.’ We need to listen to our students in this regard.”

The latest revenue revisions made last week determined that there will be over $2 billion more in fiscal years 2002 and 2023 combined in the school aid fund.

“We have the resources and the opportunity in the state right now to make a significant difference for our children,” Dr. Rice said. “Let’s make the most of the moment and do something life-changing for the next generation of Michigan children.”

Dr. Rice and Director Hertel said that legislators would do well to review again the governor’s budget recommendations that fully support students and staff as the negotiations begin between the governor and legislative leaders.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel Speaking

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel Speaking

State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice Speaking

State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice Speaking