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Obama Proposes Investments in Mental Health, School Safety

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The budget President Barack Obama's unveiled Wednesday includes money for a host of new education initiatives, but readers of this blog may be particularly interested in new money for mental health initiatives, school security, improvements to school climate, and school kitchens.

If some of these seem familiar, it's because they were in the president's "Now is the time" proposal regarding gun control and school safety from January.

Mental health initiatives: The budget proposes a new $130 million initiative to expand mental health treatment and prevention services, including $55 million for Project AWARE—Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education—to provide "Mental Health First Aid" training in schools and communities and to help school districts and their communities work together to ensure that students with mental health issues are referred to the services they need. Another $50 million would be dedicated to training 5,000 new mental health professionals to serve students and young adults, including social workers, counselors, and psychologists. "We can't take 12 years training doctors and postdocs to meet the need in 2014," an administration official told The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. "We're taking a very promising and practical approach." And $25 million would be set aside for Healthy Transitions, a new competitive grant program that would help young people ages 16 to 25 and their families access and navigate behavioral health treatment systems.

School safety: The budget calls for $112 million in new money to help schools develop and implement emergency plans, create safer and more nurturing school climates through evidence-based behavioral practices, provide support and services to children exposed to pervasive violence, collect data on school safety and climate, and highlight best practices regarding school discipline policies, including equitable implementation of these policies. Of this, $30 million would be for improved emergency management planning, giving states one-time grants to help districts develop, implement, and improve emergency management plans to prepare for and recover from emergencies. These grants will build on the model emergency management plans being developed by the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, which are supposed to be out in May.

Another $25 million would go to Project Prevent grants to help districts in communities with pervasive violence break the cycle of violence. (Coincidentally, first lady Michelle Obama was in Chicago on Wednesday to convince businesses to cough up $50 million for community programs and other initiatives that would engage young people and keep them out of trouble.) The money would support mental health services for students suffering from trauma or anxiety, conflict-resolution programs, and other school-based strategies to prevent future violence.

And $5 million would keep Project SERV—School Emergency Response to Violence—grants alive. These are designed to help restore the learning environment after a natural disaster or violent incident at or near a school or institution of higher education.

School climate: Part of the $112 mentioned above would be used to create School Climate Transformation Grants, which the Education Department said would "create positive school climates that support effective education for all students." The money would support the use of multitiered decision-making frameworks (such as PBIS, presumably), which have been shown to cut down on problem behaviors, decrease bullying, improve perceptions of school as a safe setting, and increase academic performance in reading and math.

In coordination with the School Climate Transformation Grants, the president proposed $20 million for a Juvenile Justice and Education Collaboration Assistance program to help reduce juvenile arrests (and the "school-to-prison pipeline") while improving school safety.

There's also $30 million to support a nationwide "violent deaths surveillance system" and additional research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. Together, these initiatives are intended to help identify mental illness early and create a clear pathway to treatment for those in need and keep communities safe from gun violence.

School nutrition: Obama proposed $35 million for grants so schools could buy equipment that would help them provide healthy meals and continued support for other school-based resources. That would be nice for a program that just got robbed, in effect, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Part of the allocation for the current fiscal year was gobbled up during a recent deal made to save meat inspectors from being furloughed because of the sequester.

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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