New brief spotlights funding sources to boost student mental health services

Student mental health challenges have been deeply exacerbated by the pandemic, and many state and local policymakers have acknowledged a need to implement strong mental health services to better support children.

To aid in this effort, Education Commission of The States released a policy brief March 2 that explores and describes common sources of funding that states use to support K-12 school-based mental health programming.

States use a variety of funds from federal and local sources to support student mental wellness. In addition to funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States also use funds provided through specific appropriations in the state budget, allocations made through the school funding model and tax revenue earmarked for programs or activities, according to the brief.

“In order to support the whole child throughout their educational experience, state leaders may explore how to effectively use financial resources to provide mental health services and supports to students,” researchers wrote. “In addition to using federal sources of funding, many states devote their own resources to student mental health supports and services — most often through specific state appropriations, school funding model allocations and earmarked tax revenue.”

California, for instance, is one of a limited number of states that specifically target tax dollars to support student mental health. Proposition 63 funds can be used for activities authorized under the Mental Health Services Act, which include various services and supports for school-aged children, such as youth-trauma prevention, early intervention efforts, mental health outreach and engagement strategies.

The 2004 measure established a surcharge of 1 percent on the portion of a taxpayer’s taxable income that exceeded $1 million, and deposit specified amounts of state funding on a monthly basis into a new state fund called the Mental Health Services Fund. Revenues were used to create new county mental health programs and to expand some existing programs to support both children and adults.

States leave federal money on the table

In addition to appropriating specific funding through the state budget outside of the school funding model, the brief notes that California relies on multiple federal sources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is among the many states that allow school districts to seek reimbursement or bill for mental health services or supports for the general population of Medicaid-eligible students, and to utilize grant funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support student mental health.

Researchers found, though, that California is also one of six states that does not either prioritize the use of authorized Every Student Succeeds Act funds for activities related to student mental health and wellness or access U.S. Department of Education funding through at least one of the available competitive/discretionary grant programs. These include the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program, the Trauma Recovery Demonstration Grant Program, the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program and the School Climate Transformation Grant – State Education Agency Program.

Given the various options available for states to fund student mental health services and supports, researchers included a number of considerations for state policy leaders, including:

  • Determining whether there are gaps in services and supports that might be addressed through additional funding and/or creative use of existing resources.
  • Collaborating with state leaders in health, public health and human services departments to determine opportunities for blending and braiding current funding and, where needed, identifying and seeking new funding.
  • Diversifying funding sources to improve the flexibility and sustainability of student mental health services and supports.