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Harkin, Alexander Introduce Measure to Boost Mental Health in Schools

Schools would be encouraged to expand the use of positive behavior support services, boost early-intervention services, and take other steps to help address students' mental health, under a bill that's set for committee consideration by the Senate education panel tomorrow. And the bill is..drumroll...bipartisan. In fact, it's got the top two lawmakers on the Senate education committee as sponsors, the chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and the top Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The legislation would also:

•Encourage states to help districts and schools implement new mental health programs, and allow states and schools to use money made available under the roughly $60 million Safe and Drug Free Schools National Activities program to establish partnerships with mental health clinics.

•Clarify that schools can use Title I funds to craft emergency-management plans, and for schoolwide intervention services.

•Renew a program offering grants to states, tribes and nonprofits to help train school staff and emergency-services personnel to recognize the signs of mental illness and hook students and others up with the services they need.

•Call for a Government Accountability Office report on how children are able to access mental health services, and on the use of psychotropic drugs by children.

Some of the ideas included in the bill—such as grants for mental health first aid training—echo proposals put forth by the administration in its plan released a little over a month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But, while the administration's plan calls for several hundred million dollars in new money, the Senate legislation doesn't authorize any new spending, according to committee staff. And a preliminary review by the Congressional Budget Office found that it doesn't call for any new, direct funding. (CBO will release an official analysis after the markup).

The measure has a cadre of bipartisan co-sponsors, all members of the committee. That bodes well for smooth sailing at tomorrow's markup. And this isn't the only piece of legislation responding to Sandy Hook. More here.

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