$75 million in grants available for student mental health services

The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission is now accepting applications for California’s new competitive grant program to help local educational agencies and county behavioral health departments establish or strengthen partnerships that will increase students’ access to mental health services.

According to the request for applications, grant recipients will use the funding to provide services that include, “at a minimum, services provided on school campuses, suicide prevention services, drop-out prevention services, placement assistance and service plans for students in need of ongoing services, and outreach to high-risk youth, including foster youth, youth who identify as LGBTQ, and youth who have been expelled or suspended from school.” The four-year grant cycle will offer $75 million to county behavioral departments to partner with LEAs.

With mental health diagnoses, suicide rates, non-suicidal self-injury such as cutting, and emergency room visits for students experiencing mental health issues all on the rise, education leaders have been scrambling to identify resources that can help them connect students to the mental health services they need.

Background on county mental health funding
This need for services is not new, although the statistics have become more troubling in recent years. In 2004, voters recognized the importance of ensuring Californians of all ages could access treatment for mental illness with the passage of Proposition 63, a 1 percent tax on incomes over $1 million designed to generate revenue for mental health programs. The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) wasn’t focused solely on education, however; funding is sent to counties, where stakeholder groups help develop three-year spending plans for approval by the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

Most of the text of the MHSA doesn’t address education, but it does require that counties make efforts to establish regional partnerships between the mental health system and the educational system. The law directs counties to expand outreach to multicultural communities, increase diversity in the mental health workforce, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and promote the use of web-based technologies and distance-learning. The MHSA also calls for counties to develop strategies for recruiting high school students for mental health occupations through career technical education programs (e.g., health science academies, ROP centers, etc.). Additionally, the law focuses on expanding innovative and successful services, including culturally and linguistically competent approaches for underserved populations.

MHSA funding typically reaches schools through prevention and early-intervention programs. Additional funding has been used for “innovation grants” that aim to increase interagency collaboration. In practice, however, partnerships between county behavioral health departments and LEAs have remained limited, and the need for accessible mental health services that can meet the needs of children, youth and their families as part of a coordinated system remains largely unmet.

Addressing mental health funding in schools
In response to criticism and the growing demand, the 2019–20 state budget authorized the use of $75 million in MHSA funding for competitive grants to establish and strengthen the counties’ partnerships with LEAs. According to the request for applications, county, city, multi-county behavioral or mental health departments — or consortiums of these agencies — may apply for a grant with one or more school districts, charter schools or county offices of education. An educational agency may be designated the lead agency, though as with existing MHSA funding, the county, city or multi-county mental health department will receive the funding. The grant requires that all school districts, charter schools and the county office of education be invited to participate in the partnership, as they are able. The application itself must include a plan developed and approved by participating educational partners.

Applications for the grant will be accepted in two phases:

– Existing partnerships of two or more years: Feb. 28, 2020 deadline

– New and emerging partnerships of less than two years: May 8, 2020 deadline

District and county office of education trustees should check with their superintendent about their LEA’s participation in an existing partnership or whether any discussions about establishing a new partnership have started. Additional information and applications are available here.

To support further conversations about mental health supports for students, CSBA has published a brief on adolescent mental health that trustees can review with their governance team.