The North Carolina Department of Public Education (NCDPI) recently awarded nearly $17 million in grant funding from the US Department of Education to help address the mental health needs of students in the state’s public schools. The funding will enable NCDPI to strengthen partnerships with higher education institutions and 15 school districts to increase the number and diversity of mental health providers in high-needs schools. Starting this month and running through 2027, these grants will help the state strengthen the pipeline of school mental health providers, including school counsellors, school social workers and school mental health clinicians.
Last fall, the agency pursued competitive grants, called the Mental Health Service Professional Offer (MHSP) Scholarship and the School Mental Health Scholarship Program (SBMH). The applications cited data from the newly released 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), Apply today to the State Board of Education (SBE), as a primary need for funding. The data included in the app underscores how mental health challenges hinder North Carolina students’ achievement. The survey results also show a continuing negative impact on the mental health of students post-pandemic and highlight the continued need to address these challenges.
State Director of Public Education Katherine Truett said funding from these two grants is critical to meeting the growing mental health needs of students and to filling vacant mental health positions at the school. “This funding is very important in terms of capacity building for mental health service professionals in schools,” Truett said. “As a recipient 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 mental health providers through recruitment, retention, and incentives.”
The first grant, called the “Add Direct Support (ADS) Project,” the NCDPI Mental Health Services Occupational Demonstration Scholarship will serve more than 120,000 students in eight school districts: Pitt, Pender, Wayne, Harnett, Scotland, Alamance-Burlington, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and Catuba. The ADS project will increase the number of licensed school mental health providers by at least 60 within five years. To achieve this, Project ADS will incentivize local general counsels and social workers to “re-specialise,” meaning they complete additional work to become licensed to practice in schools as a designated school counselor and/or school social worker.
The ADS project will partner with three Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) with accredited school counseling and school social work licensure programs: University of North Carolina – Charlotte (UNCC), University of North Carolina – Pembroke (UNCP), and North Carolina State University (NCSU). In partnership with the three IHEs, Project ADS will recruit, train and re-specialize school mental health providers, provide travel stipends for internships at selected local education authorities, and provide stipends for internship supervisors. The total funding for this scholarship is approximately $5.54 million over five years.
The other grant, billed as “Project FAST,” the NCDPI School Mental Health Scholarship will serve approximately 73,000 students in six school districts: Cabarrus, Davidson, Guilford, Randolph, Scotland, and Stanley. The FAST project will increase the number of school mental health providers to 30 over the five-year project period. With a focus on recruitment, re-specialization and retention, this project aims to ensure staff stay where they are and provides incentives for these professionals to ensure that the growing mental health needs of students are met.
The two grants are being requested, said Pachovia Lovett, NCDPI’s school social work consultant. “We are excited to start this work and eager to see the impact in retaining and re-specializing counselors and social workers into school mental health providers.”
Districts participating in Project FAST will have a project advisor to help formulate a plan for increasing the number of mental health providers in their schools based on individual priorities, service gaps, and student-provider ratios of current students. Districts can choose from recruitment mechanisms such as offering stipends to graduating trainees, offering assistance with tuition and costs associated with re-majorization, and/or offering signing bonuses and supplemental raises.
Retention will be dealt with through mechanisms such as offering incentives for extended contracts and providing extensive professional development and/or training opportunities. Funding for this five-year scholarship is approximately $2.84 million beginning in 2023 and $2.37 recurring each calendar year through December 31, 2027, totaling approximately $12.3 million.
These grants complement efforts secured during the 2021 budget, when NCDPI sought funding from the NC General Assembly to prioritize mental health in K-12 schools. These efforts have resulted in every North Carolina school district receiving funding to ensure that it employs a permanent, full-time school psychologist. For additional information about these scholarships, please email [email protected].