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What's In the New Federal Opioid Legislation to Help Schools

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The opioid crisis has become a top-of-mind issue for schools across the country coping with orphaned children and with others facing serious emotional trauma.

Congress recently passed legislation that will help schools and communities cope with some of the challenges of educating kids from families grappling with opioid addiction.

The legislation authorizes $50 million in grants per year for the next five years to help states and school districts implement schoolwide behavioral interventions and supports for students who have experienced trauma.

The money could be used to develop partnerships between school districts and mental health programs to help with screening, referral, and treatment., or to provide professional development to teachers, school leaders, and others to help students cope with trauma. The grants are supposed to be equitably distributed among urban, rural, tribal, and suburban areas. 

And the measure also authorizes $10 million per year for five years, to help school districts and nonprofit organizations treat and prevent substance abuse disorders in children and young adults. The grants will be awarded competitively by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and can be used for counseling, job-training, and more. HHS will create a resource center to help disseminate best practices in substance abuse treatment and prevention in states and school districts. (More in this analysis from Results for America.)

The money is a good start, but states and districts will still need to devote significant resources to helping school districts cope with the fallout from the opioid crisis, said Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, the director of government relations for the National Association of School Psychologists.

She said she's had more and more questions from counselors about how to cope with parents becoming less involved in school, and grandparents taking over parenting duties.

"I do think this is a pretty large problem," she said. "Even though [this legislation includes] a large sum of money, states and localities should not feel that they should also be making investments to address this. We know the problem is really significant in Appalachia. This investment will really be a drop in the bucket. What I hope is that states don't turn their back on what the federal government needs to do to address this crisis just because Congress has passed this bill."

Norwin School Distict Superintendent of Schools, William H. Kerr shows materials being considered in use in the development of a curriculum for educating students in the district about opioid drug addiction at his office on Jan. 23, 2017, in North Huntindon, Pa. Schools across the country are teaching children as young as grade school about opioids as the nation's deadly drug crisis rages on. --Keith Srakocic/AP


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