Citizens throughout Georgia should be aware of the potential that local school systems have to offer mental health services paid through federal funding, according to a guest column today by school psychologist Matthew J. Vignieri. He says that potential cannot be realized with the Georgia Department of Education's current plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act replaced No Child Left Behind. Created on a platform of more flexibility and state control, ESSA requires each state create and submit an accountability plan to the federal government for approval by mid-September.
Georgia just released its draft of the ESSA implementation plan, a plan that Vignieri says falls short on a key component to student success -- mental health services. A school psychologist in Hall County, Vignieri co-chairs the Advocacy Committee of the Georgia Association of School Psychologists.
In this column, Vignieri says students will suffer if mental health workers are not given a broader role in Georgia's plan to comply with the new federal K-12 law.
By Matthew J. Vignieri
Despite the federal government’s recognition of the positive impact that mental health services and school climate can have, the Georgia Department of Education's current plan for implementing ESSA largely overlooks these critical aspects to student achievement.
Per ESSA mandates, all states must submit a plan detailing how they intend to address standards, assessments, accountability, and assistance for struggling schools and students. Title IV, Part A, of ESSA relates to how state education departments will utilize $1.65 billion in block grant funding to support students and enrich their academic experiences.
One scientifically proven method is comprehensive school mental health services. Regarding implementation methods, ESSA references expanding access to resources for school-based counseling, mental health programs and mental health providers. It also mentions offering mental health awareness programs and improving the services for early identification and the referral processes for individual or small group counseling.
Given these statements, in addition to the fact that professionals such as "school psychologists" and "mental health counselors" are cited as individuals who can help implement the federal K-12 education law, child mental-health advocates lauded ESSA as a step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the Georgia Department of Education's draft for implementing ESSA falls short of expectations for improving student mental health. Most references to counseling relate to career-planning. Searching the term “mental health” brings up a paragraph about sharing the load of improving children’s psychological well-being with other state agencies. Two organizations that work to increase mental health awareness and collaboration between school systems and community mental health providers are also named in the plan, but hundreds of other community mental health organizations go unmentioned.
"School psychologist” can be found nowhere in the draft. This is dispiriting given that there is a shortage of school psychologists in Georgia. With or without ESSA, the shortage is a problem that must be addressed. The ESSA framework offers a way to do so.
I implore state lawmakers and educational leaders to place more emphasis on plans to serve children as a whole rather than selective aspects of their life, such as achievement. The current plan focuses so strongly on achievement and so little on student support that it appears akin to plans to build a wall without a foundation.
Citizens throughout Georgia should be aware of the potential that local school systems have to offer mental health services paid through federal funding. That potential cannot be realized with the Georgia Department of Education's current plan for implementing ESSA.
An overview of ESSA as well as a draft of Georgia’s plan to implement the bill is available here. I implore you to read through the draft and provide commentary here. Please provide commentary as soon as possible regarding the omission of mental health initiatives and professionals such as school psychologists.
There is no time to wait; the public comment period closes Friday.. Concerned readers are also encouraged to contact their local and/or federal congressmen/women to express their concerns.