The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act (S. 2499) would authorize $5 billion in grants to be allocated by the Department of Education to state educational agencies in 2020, with potential renewal in subsequent years. These state agencies would then give subgrants to elementary and secondary schools for the purpose of staffing school-based mental health service providers, which includes counsellors, psychologists, and social workers.
The goal of this Bill is to achieve the recommended ratios, as determined by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and other professional organizations, of 250 students per counselor or social worker and 500-700 students per school psychologist within elementary and secondary schools. The ASCA cites an abundance of empirical evidence that having school-based mental health services has a significant positive effect on a number of outcomes, such as improved test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance rates and a reduction in both absenteeism and suspensions. In 2019, the national average ratios were:
- 444 students per school counselor
- 1,408 students per school psychologist
- 2,106 students per social worker
To receive funding, state educational agencies would need to submit an application that includes a description of the subgrant award process, the intended allocation of money to elementary versus secondary schools, and an evaluation of the state’s current student-to-provider ratios. Successful agencies would submit a yearly report on the impact of the grant, including the most recent statistics on student-to-provider ratios. No state would receive less than $1,000,000; however, the grant amount could not be more than the minimum needed to achieve the recommended student-to-provider ratio.
A 2019 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that 47 out of 50 states do not meet the professional standards for student-to-provider ratios. The ACLU criticized states for allocating nearly $1 billion in funding for school security and safety upgrades following school shootings in 2018. Currently, tens of millions of students attend a school where there is a police officer on duty, but no school nurse, psychologist, counselor, or social worker.
A companion bill, HR 4381, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR).