Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act Would Improve Access to Health Services and Providers

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) introduced the Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act. This legislation addresses the critical shortage of mental health professionals, like school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. Specifically, authorization is granted to establish partnerships between the Department of Education and eligible graduate programs to cover up to 50 percent of attendance costs for students attaining graduate degrees in the field of school psychology. These grants will allow more people to become school-based mental health service providers.

“Ensuring students have access to mental health resources is vital to their current and future success, along with that of their peers,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “Even in states with the greatest access to mental health services in America, over 38 percent of youth are not receiving the mental health services they need. As a Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, I am proud to support the Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act.”

"The COVID-19 crisis has been causing an historic wave of mental health issues, especially in our students. The pandemic has totally disrupted their routines and kept them out of the classroom for much of the past year, and they've missed out on seeing their friends, exploring hobbies, and playing on their sports teams," said Rep. Gottheimer. "As our communities begin to rebound, this bipartisan bill will help ensure that we're expanding access to school mental health services and addressing the drastic shortage of mental health professionals — so that students in North Jersey and nationwide can get the support they need."

Rep. Fitzpatrick has made school safety a top priority during his time in Congress. In February, he and Rep. Peters reintroduced the bipartisan Suicide and Threat Assessment Nationally Dedicated to Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act to encourage schools to expand evidence-based suicide prevention training to students in grades 6 through 12.

In February, Rep. Gottheimer wrote to the CDC to address troubling reports of declining mental health among students. The challenges of the pandemic and lack of in-person socialization with their peers led to increased youth emergency room visits related to mental health and a rise in student suicides in school districts across the country. In the letter, Gottheimer stressed that this youth mental health crisis cannot be allowed to worsen.

What They’re Saying:

“Schools play a critical role in meeting the mental and behavioral health needs of children and youth. This was true before COVID-19, but equipping schools to meet the mental and behavioral health needs of students must be a top priority as we look to recover from the pandemic” said Dr. Kathleen Minke, Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists. “Unfortunately, we are facing a shortage of school psychologists and other school-employed mental health providers, which is impeding schools’ ability to meet the growing need. We applaud Representatives Fitzpatrick and Gottheimer for their leadership in introducing legislation that will help increase the pool of professionals appropriately trained to support our children’s learning and mental health in schools.”

“As I enter my 25th year as a school psychologist, two significant issues that confront my profession and weigh on our educational system are the growing mental health and wellness needs of students while we face a national shortage of individuals in the field of school psychology to address the growing needs,” said the 2021 National School Psychologist of the Year, Julia Szarko. “Every day I live this difficult reality as my colleagues and I try desperately to meet the needs of our students, while our ratios are well over the recommended caseloads. I fully support the Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act of 2021 and the pathway the legislation will create to recruit, train, and deliver greatly needed school mental health personnel, including school psychologists to our Nation’s schools.”