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Democrats Seek More Money for Mental Health Services, Counseling in Schools

Booker.PNG

To help create safer schools in the wake of a Florida school shooting last month, several Democratic senators want Congress to give more money to an Every Student Succeeds Act program in order to fund more counselors, trauma-informed classroom management, and mental-health services for schools. 

In a letter to top Senators on the Senate appropriations committee, which is led by Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, the Democrats said the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants—which are a part of Title IV in ESSA—should be funded at "the highest possible level" for fiscal 2018. They didn't specify what they thought would be appropriate funding, but right now, that grant program is authorized for $1.6 billion under ESSA. It's getting $400 million in current federal spending.

"While funding for school safety cannot replace meaningful, strong gun safety reforms, as our nation faces these crises, we must answer the call of parents, educators, and students to provide schools and educators with the resources they need to meet these challenges and keep their students safe and healthy," reads a portion of the letter, which was headlined by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Title IV was designed by ESSA's authors to be a versatile grant program, since it can also support things like educational technology, the arts, and Advanced Placement course fees. Districts ultimately decide how to spend the money. 

President Donald Trump has sought to eliminate Title IV in his last two budget proposals, for fiscal 2018, which Congress has yet to finalize and in fiscal 2019. However, in their proposed education funding bills for fiscal 2018, the House sought a $100 million increase for the program up to $500 million, while the Senate sought a $50 million increase.

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, the National School Boards Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have also pushed for Congress to boost Title IV funding.

"The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant would provide support consistent with the administration's goals and—we strongly believe—accelerate communities toward those goals far more than an investment solely in physical security," NASSP said in a statement. 

Republicans in Congress seem more focused on the STOP School Violence Act, which could authorize up to $100 million more annually for school safety measures, depending on whether you're looking at the House or Senate version. Meanwhile, the head of the Senate education committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, has proposed tweaking ESSA to encourage states to spend more on mental-health services and counseling under Title II—which funds professional development for educators—as well as Title IV.

Read the full letter below: 

Photo: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., pictured when he was the mayor of Newark in 2013, was one of three Democratic senators to headline a letter to the Senate appropriations committee in early March asking for additional funding for school safety measures under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 


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