Bipartisan Bill Would Help School Districts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, & Across the Country Connect Students with Telemental Health Services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) today introduced bipartisan legislation to help address the surge in mental health crises among children and adolescents by improving access to mental health services in schools.
According to a 2022 survey conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission on student mental health in Virginia, nearly two-thirds of high school students reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge — and 40 percent of students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless. Unfortunately, more than half of the school divisions surveyed indicated feeling pessimistic about their ability to employ a suitable mental health workforce for the 2022–2023 school year. These trends are occurring across the country.
The Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act would create a federal grant program under the U.S. Department of Education in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help school districts fund telehealth programs that provide mental health services. School districts would be allowed to use this funding to establish a private setting for students to connect with a professional, pay staff salaries, and purchase or upgrade the technology necessary to provide telemental health services. Additionally, this grant program would prioritize rural and low-income districts, as children and adolescents in these schools are less likely to have access to professional mental health services.
“As children and teenagers across our Commonwealth and our country report more frequent feelings of anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness, we must continue to find ways to connect our future generation with professional mental health resources,” said Spanberger. “School districts are already working to fill the gap for their students — but many are stretched thin by finite resources. Our bipartisan Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act would live up to its name by assisting educators, parents, and administrators in meeting the demonstrated need in their schools, and I’m grateful to my colleague Congressman Fitzpatrick for recognizing the benefit this program would provide to students.”
“Implementation of telemental health programs in K-12 schools is a critical next step in increasing access to our youth during a time when pediatric mental health is at an all time high,” said Fitzpatrick. “That is why I am proud to co-lead this bipartisan legislation that will bolster access to comprehensive mental health services in our communities.”
The bipartisan Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act is receiving support from parents concerned about student mental health.
“As a parent and active community member I see how vital it is we make accessing mental health care easier for our students and families,” said Miriam Niemi, King George County, Virginia. “I know families who could only access daytime appointments and had to withdraw students from school travel home to get onto a zoom therapy call and then return their student to school. I know of other families who cannot access mental health care due to distance and this bill would allow students to get this important service with minimal disruption to their school day. I support the Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act!”
“As a result of the pandemic we’ve seen escalating mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, the number of school-based mental health providers isn’t enough to meet the demand and many students are on wait lists to access care,” said Jenna Alexander, President-Elect, Virginia PTA. “Providing school-based Telemental health services, particularly in mental healthcare deserts, will enable students to access preventative care without needing to travel long distances or miss valuable instructional time.”
The bipartisan legislation is endorsed by the Virginia Education Association, Virginia PTA, School Superintendents Association (AASA), Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS), National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“The Virginia Education Association applauds Congresswoman Spanberger’s leadership in sponsoring the Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act. We know that children do better in school if they have broader access to health and mental health services and family supports, as well as other school readiness interventions,” said Dr. James J. Fedderman, President, Virginia Education Association. “We are acutely aware of the interconnected nature of the academic, physical, mental, social, and emotional development of students, their families, and communities. Students with untreated medical concerns are less likely to benefit from the learning and enrichment opportunities available to them in school. This legislation will provide much-needed resources to schools in the form of grants to support the mental and behavioral health of students in elementary schools and secondary schools, especially those students who reside in rural areas or lack access to mental and behavioral health services. This legislation seeks to remove barriers to student success by helping students access comprehensive ‘wraparound’ services, like the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.”
“VASS recognizes the growing importance of student mental health in our schools and in our communities,” said Scott Braband, Executive Director, Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “Telemental health is another way for school districts to support student mental health and VASS supports grants that provide initial start up funding for these services.”
“Last year, only half of high school students reported that they were able to get the mental health assistance they needed,” said Ronn Nozoe, CEO, National Association of Secondary School Principals. “In the face of long waiting lists, long distances to facilities and unaffordable options, the Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act would give our students timely access to care they need to succeed both academically and personally, especially those living in rural and underserved communities.”
“Shortages of qualified mental and behavioral health providers are persistent in rural areas, which is why it’s so important we provide schools the resources to build and sustain their telehealth system, so they can adequately meet students needs,” said Sasha Pudelski, Director of Advocacy, School Superintendents Association.
“We commend Representatives Spanberger and Fitzpatrick for introducing the Connecting Students to Mental Health Services Act,” said Dr. L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, Executive Director, NAESP. “Expanding access to mental and behavioral health services, particularly in rural areas and communities most in need, is an important strategy to support student well-being and their overall success. This bill provides an initial investment for this promising approach and calls attention to the need to increase such opportunities in underserved areas.”
Click here for the full bill text.