The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) was recently awarded roughly $17 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education to help meet the mental health needs of students in the state’s public schools. The funding will enable NCDPI to leverage partnerships with institutions of higher education and 15 school districts to increase the number and diversity of mental health service providers in high-needs schools. Starting this month and continuing through 2027, these grants will help the state bolster the pipeline of school-based mental health service providers, including school counselors, school social workers and school mental health clinicians.
The competitive grants, called the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration (MHSP) Grant and the School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Grant Program, were pursued by the agency last fall. The applications cited data from the newly released 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), presented today to the State Board of Education (SBE), as a primary need for the funding. Data included in the application underscore how mental health challenges hinder achievement for North Carolina students. Survey findings also demonstrate a continued negative impact on students’ mental health post-pandemic and highlight the ongoing need to address these challenges.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said funding from these two grants is critical to addressing the growing student mental health needs and in filling vacant school-based mental health positions. “This funding is so important in terms of building capacity for mental health service professionals in schools,” Truitt said. “As an awardee of both grants, the agency is able to increase mental health support for students in designated North Carolina schools, while strengthening the future pipeline of school-based mental health providers through recruitment, retention and incentives.”
The first grant, named “Project Adding Direct Support (ADS),” NCDPI’s Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant will serve over 120,000 students in eight school districts: Pitt, Pender, Wayne, Harnett, Scotland, Alamance-Burlington, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and Catawba. Project ADS will increase the number of licensed school-based mental health providers by a minimum of 60 within five years. To accomplish this, Project ADS will incentivize local generalist counselors and social workers to “re-specialize”, meaning that they complete additional work to become licensed to practice in schools as a designated school counselor and/or school social worker.
Project ADS will partner with three institutions of higher education (IHEs) with approved school counseling and school social work licensure programs: The University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC), The University of North Carolina-Pembroke (UNCP), and N.C. State University (NCSU). In partnership with the three IHEs, Project ADS will recruit, train and re-specialize school-based mental health providers, provide travel stipends for internships in identified LEAs, and provide stipends for internship supervisors. The total funding for this grant is approximately $5.54 million across five years.
The other grant, deemed “Project FAST,” NCDPI’s School-Based Mental Health Grant will serve approximately 73,000 students in six school districts: Cabarrus, Davidson, Guilford, Randolph, Scotland and Stanly. Project FAST will increase the number of school-based mental health providers to 30 over the project’s five-year period. With an emphasis on recruitment, re-specialization and retention, this project aims to ensure that staff remain in place and provides incentives to these professionals to ensure that growing mental health needs of students are met.
“Providing school-based mental health candidates with tuition assistance, high-quality professional development, sign-on incentives, and supplement increases will go a long way in helping to meet staffing challenges in school districts,” said Pachovia Lovett, NCDPI’s school social work consultant who sought the two grants. “We are excited to begin this work and eager to see the impact in retaining and re-specializing counselors and social workers into school-based mental health providers.”
Districts participating in Project FAST will have a project consultant to assist in crafting a plan to increase the number of mental health service providers in their schools based on individual priorities, gaps in services, and current student to provider ratios. Districts can select among recruitment mechanisms such as offering stipends to graduate interns, providing tuition assistance and costs associated with re-specialization, and/or offering signing bonuses and supplement increases.
Retention will be addressed through mechanisms such as offering incentives for extended contracts and providing intensive professional development and/or training opportunities. Funding for this five-year grant is approximately $2.84 million beginning in 2023 and $2.37 recurring each calendar year until December 31, 2027, for a total of approximately $12.3 million.
These grants compliment efforts secured during the 2021 budget, when NCDPI sought funding from the N.C. General Assembly to prioritize mental health in K-12 schools. Those efforts resulted in each North Carolina school district receiving funding to ensure they employed one full-time, permanent school psychologist. For additional information on these grants, please email email@example.com.