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NEA News

Historic Win: $1 Billion for Student Mental Health

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act brought the first meaningful gun law reform in 30 years, plus an infusion of mental health resources for schools.
bipartisan safer communitie act
Published: April 28, 2023

When President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) into law last June, we took another step closer to the schools that parents, educators, and students want: Safe and welcoming spaces that foster students’ physical and mental well-being.

Thanks in large part to educator advocacy, BSCA included the first meaningful gun reform in roughly 30 years. It also provided unprecedented funding to address student mental health needs. Though not all mental health issues lead to violence and not all violence stems from mental health issues, there is significant overlap.

Changes to Gun Laws

Utah teacher Deborah Gatrell
Utah teacher Deborah Gatrell

The legislation expands background checks; targets interstate gun trafficking; and supports state “red flag” laws, which allow courts to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. These are the kind of commonsense changes that educators support—not dangerous, unproven ideas like arming teachers.

Deborah Gatrell is both a teacher and a lieutenant colonel in the Utah Army National Guard. While Gatrell is highly trained in the use of firearms, she says she would never want to carry a weapon in the classroom.

“I’m a teacher and you are my student,” Gatrell says. “I can’t see you as a potential threat and then teach you.”

Though lawmakers need to do much more, educators recognize that the new law is an important first step in curbing America’s gun violence epidemic.

Funding for Mental Health

NEA also advocated for funding to dedicate to students’ mental and physical health with the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Educators sounded the alarm years ago about the need for more nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in schools. The loss and isolation brought on by the pandemic made the skyrocketing need among students undeniable.

The Biden administration and key members of Congress listened when educators, students, and parents spoke out. NEA members said it would take significant funding to help schools address mental health—and President Biden came through. The law also expands how schools can use funding from Medicaid, which means more students will receive physical and mental health screenings and services.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Delivers for Education

More Mental Health Professionals and Resources to Public Schools The law dedicates nearly $1 billion to expanding critical programs that support kids and families in need; training school staff to help detect mental health issues; and implementing a crisis hotline that provides free support to youth and adults in distress.
Expanded School Services Covered by Medicaid. States can change their policies or amend state plans so schools can bill Medicaid for services ranging from speech or occupational therapy to hiring audiologists. They can screen the entire student body, whether or not every student has an individualized education plan. Administrative expenses are also covered but states need to take action and amend their Medicaid plans to access these funds.
Bolstered Tele-Health Options. The law expands telehealth options for mental health care. While telehealth is valuable, it should not replace in-person services or count against required staff ratios.
More Physical and Mental Health Screenings for Students. The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment Program allows schools to provide vision, dental, and mental health screenings.. And it allows nurses to organize their care.
Easier Identification of Students Who Need Services. Schools play a vital role in identifying students who are Medicaid-eligible. Now, schools can assist in determining whether a student has health insurance upon enrollment in school.
An Expanded and Diversified Pipeline of Future Educators. The law expands programs meant to diversify the teaching profession It is estimated that the new funding will add 5,500 mental health professionals in schools.
School counselor supports a young student during a group session

Resources to Support Student & Educator Mental Health

Find resources, information, and advocacy opportunities to provide both the mental health supports our students and educators need and the staffing and programs schools need to effectively address the challenges they face.

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National Education Association

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.