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MN School Mental-Health Staffs Navigate Funding Maze


Friday, November 11, 2022   

Two months into the new school year, Minnesota social workers in schools say resources still are hard to come by for providing mental-health services. There are additional funds out there, but some constraints as well.

Christy McCoy, a social worker for St. Paul Public Schools, said the increased demand for mental-health care among students isn't slowing down. Her district was among those that received American Rescue Plan funding to add school-based mental-health providers, including social workers. But McCoy said there's been a hiccup in carrying out that approach.

"So, here we've got this money that has come forth all of a sudden, but we're having a difficult time finding people to fill those positions," she said. "So, there's still a few positions open in our district."

She said the workforce shortage is playing out in other districts with extra funding as well. This fall, the U.S. Department of Education announced a new round of separate grants for schools to add mental-health staff. But Minnesota lost out on the first round, and state officials have said they're still deciding whether to reapply.

McCoy pointed out that states didn't have a long time period to gather information for applying, but adds Minnesota is at least pursuing other grant opportunities. She suggested that solutions will have to start playing out soon, because kids' mental-health needs can't wait.

"The needs, they're just coming out of the woodwork," she said, "and I'm hearing that from my colleagues all across the state, all across the nation."

McCoy, who is board president of the School Social Work Association of America, said they're also encountering wait lists in connecting students with providers in the community. Her group pushed in Minnesota for dedicated funding in the last legislative session, but lawmakers failed to agree on supplemental spending. However, Democrats gained full control this election cycle, which may mean less gridlock in deciding how to use the state's budget surplus.

Disclosure: Minnesota School Social Workers Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Education, Mental Health, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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