Top 5 Things You Need to Know About COVID Relief Funds and School-Based Mental Health

By Duncan Young, CEO, Effective School Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated school disruption has had a devastating impact on our young people, in terms of their academic progress but also in their mental health and social-emotional well-being. Many students will have a long road back to re-adjust to a more normalized schooling environment- these challenges can be anticipated to extend through school re-opening but also well into the future.

In response to the COVID relief pandemic, the federal government has fortunately provided an unprecedented infusion of additional funding to K-12 school districts to help address these challenges. While there will be many areas of education that will benefit from this funding, one of the key areas that districts can use it for is to strengthen mental health supports to address what is likely to be an increase in the intensity and frequency of student mental health challenges.

Here are 5 key facts you need to know about federal COVID relief dollars and how they can be used for mental health support.

1) How much money will school districts be receiving?

Districts have already received two different infusions of funding. The CARES Act, passed in April 2020, provided an additional $13 billion for schools through the Elementary and Second School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) provided $54 billion for school districts through the ESSER II fund. A third bill, the American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021 and provides an additional $122 billion for schools. Also, the American Rescue Plan provides an additional $350 billion to support the finances of state and local governments, which in turn will help to support school funding.

2) How are the dollars allocated?

This funding is allocated in proportion to a district’s Title I allocation.

3) What can the funding be used for?

There are 12 approved uses for this funding, ranging from strategies to address learning loss to purchase of PPE to providing services to support student mental health. Click here for a list of approved items.

4) What kinds of mental health supports should districts be putting in place?

The law providing funding is very broad in terms of the types of mental health supports that can be delivered with the funding. Effective School Solutions recommends that districts follow a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model for mental health support, including:

a) Tier 3 intensive in-school clinical programming for students with the most severe challenges.

b) Tier 2 flexible therapeutic support to address the needs of students with mild to moderate challenges.

c) Tier 1 universal supports, including professional learning for educators on mental health related topics.

Click here to learn more about what mental health supports should be in place to best support the needs of their students.

5) When must districts spend this additional funding?

For the ESSER, districts must obligate funds by September 30th, 2022. For ESSER II, districts must obligate funds by September 30th, 2023. This means that when it comes to mental health programming, districts can implement multi-year initiatives using these funding streams, covering the 2020–2021, 2021–2022, 2022–2023, and even the 2023–2024 school years. During this time there are multiple ways that a district can determine a longer-term sustainability plan for funding mental health initiatives, such as the use of in-district programming to offset accelerating levels of out-of-district tuition costs.

About Effective School Solutions (ESS)

ESS partners with school districts to help them implement culturally inclusive mental health programs that improve care, strengthen outcomes, and maintain students in-district.

Reinventing K-12 Mental Health Care. Effective School Solution partners with school districts to help develop K-12 whole-school mental health programs.