Policy Focus: Shortage of Available Mental Heath Services in our Schools
What the transition of AB3632 to AB114 means for our children.
According to the California Department of Education, as of the 2013-2014 educational year, nearly 28,000 special education students in California receive mental health services in support of their guarantee to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). AB 114 placed the responsibility of providing these mental health services on the local school districts. This change comes after more than 25 years of AB 3632, which required county mental health departments to work in partnership with school districts to fulfill the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requirement. Enacted in 2011, AB 114 has resulted in myriad responses across California’s county offices of education. Some districts have continued existing services with counties, such as Alpine and Imperial Counties. Marin County has an MOU with Marin County Community Mental Health Services, while others have tried new approaches to providing care. Some Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPA) are hiring on-site Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) or Mental Health Counselors. It is important for parents to note that Licensed School Psychologists are not usually licensed to perform counseling.
AB 114 also transferred the responsibility of funding related mental health services from county mental health and child welfare departments to school districts. It states that funds shall be available only for the purpose of providing educationally related mental health services (ERMHS), including out-of-home residential services for emotionally disturbed pupils, (emotionally disturbed is the legal term used by the IDEA and State of California to qualify a student for special education mental health services) required by an Individualized Education Program (IEP) pursuant to the federal IDEA of 2004.
Funding is distributed by the California Department of Education (CDE) directly to Special Education Local Planning Areas based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of all pupils within the SELPA, without regard for the number of pupils in Special Education or the disability status of those pupils. Each SELPA then has license to determine its own formula for allocating funds directly to its Local Education Areas (LEAs). As a consequence, SELPAs may vary in how they fund related mental health services within school districts, charter schools, and programs. However there is a formula SELPAs must follow.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) creates a new opportunity for parents, students, and community members to meaningfully engage in local decisions regarding schools’ education strategies and funding priorities. There are immediate and long-term opportunities for local communities to work with their school districts on the transition to LCFF and to influence the ongoing regulatory process that will clarify important elements of the new formula.
The State Board of Education recently adopted a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) template that districts must now use to develop a local spending and funding priority plan no later than July 1 of each year. The LCAP must demonstrate how districts will use their newly granted flexibility and additional resources to improve student success. After four years of funding cuts, districts now have the ability to work with their local communities to make decisions to help restore, improve, and set a foundation for more responsive and outcome-driven educational programs to increase student success and to help high-needs kids. The continued engagement of parents, students, community members, and other stakeholders is essential to achieving a successful transition and smart policy solutions that ensure the intentions of LCFF become a reality.
Many school districts in California have adopted the term ‘Educationally Related Mental Health Services,’ or ERMHS, to refer to the services previously provided by county mental health agencies. This has resulted in some confusion, especially the thinking that these services are somehow separate from the related services outlined in IDEA. The California Department of Education (CDE) has addressed the confusing terminology by stating that it will use the term ‘Related Services for Students Who Have Emotional and Behavioral Needs’ in place of ‘Educationally Related Mental Health Services.’
Eligibility under ‘Emotional Disturbance’ is not necessary to be eligible for receiving related mental health services under the California Education Code. CDE states the following: eligibility for related services is not contingent on a particular disabling condition and should be determined based on an assessment that reveals an individualized disability.
In public schools, special education doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and mental health concerns are not exclusive to those diagnosed for special education. So, while AB 114 is focused solely on mental health services for special education students (with IEPs), districts and schools need to take the lead over the long run in placing such services into perspective with respect to the mission of public education and No Child Left Behind.
Throughout the state, stakeholder meetings beginning in 2013 and continuing into 2015, have convened to address these changes including representatives from public mental health, state and local education agencies, juvenile justice systems, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), parents and youth, and those from the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Additionally, the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget includes a $130 million initiative to help teachers recognize signs of mental illness in students and refer them to services, support innovative state-based programs to improve mental health outcomes for young people of all ages, and train 5,000 more mental health professionals. The California Department of Education in conjunction with DHCS Mental Health Services, California Department of Social Services, California Department of Corrections’ Juvenile Justice Division, and community partners including UACF parent advocates formed a task force to develop new programs and curriculums for aspiring teachers on how to identify emotional and behavioral problems in students before situations become a hindrance to learning. This project will be implemented in four to five years in universities and colleges throughout California.
Under AB 114, a key consideration for each district centers on how to provide mental health support programs for students. Many districts across the state chose to contract with nonprofit mental health providers (Community Based Outpatient) that resulted in the ability to provide high quality, affordable care for students with complex and challenging needs. Some of the school districts in California have chosen to contract back with county mental health to provide services, while some SELPAs have hired qualified personnel that provide services. Some transitions have been easier than others. UACF will be following the development of special education services and will inform parents of these changes. For a list of counties and school districts, click here: Chart of MOUs