March 21, 2022

While 'Substantial Progress Achieved' on School-Based Mental Health Services, More Policy Changes Needed

The Hopeful Futures Campaign, a coalition of national organizations, has issued a new report: America's School Mental Health Report Card. It includes state-by-state policy recommendations for improving school-based mental health services.

Notably, Florida is ranked highest on "funding supports" for school mental health services. It finds that "substantial progress" has been achieved and points to a Florida law authorizing Medicaid funding for school-based health services provided to any Medicaid-eligible child. 

A 2018 FPI report identified the need to amend Florida law to authorize Medicaid funding for all Medicaid-eligible children, rather than limiting it to just those children identified as having special needs through an individual education plan. 

After the hard work of legislative champions (Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola; former Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; and Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart) and a robust coalition of children's advocacy and other community groups, the needed changes in law were passed in 2020. Since that time, school districts have been able to obtain federal Medicaid dollars to support health services provided to any Medicaid-eligible child. This includes mental health services delivered by psychologists, social workers, and counselors. 

However, the report card also identifies multiple Florida policy changes needed to further support these school services. They include:

  • Improving the ratio of school mental health professionals to students. Currently, Florida has one school counselor for every 459 students (the recommended ratio is 1:250). Other reports suggest that the ratio for school psychologists is estimated to be one for every 1860, which contrasts with the recommended ratio of 1:500;
  • Requiring annual mental health well-being check-ups for all students and staff in K-12 schools;
  • Requiring partnerships between school districts and community mental health providers that ensure access to services for students with ongoing needs;
  • Building on existing training requirements including Youth Mental Health First Aid to ensure K-12 teachers and staff receive regular training on mental well-being, including suicide awareness and prevention;
  • Requiring adoption of evidence-based life skills education for K-12 including making training in the curriculum available to parents and caregivers; and
  • Requiring adoption of more policies to promote healthy school climates including anti-discrimination policies and alternatives to exclusionary discipline. 

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