(Pittsburgh, Pa.) June 15, 2022 — Senator Lindsey Williams announced today that she is the prime co-sponsor of three pieces of legislation aimed at improving student mental health. These bills seek to put more school-based mental health care programs and professionals into classrooms and to empower students in case of emergencies.
First, Senator Williams is co-sponsoring legislation with Senator Michele Brooks (R-Crawford, Erie, and Mercer) that will create the School-Based Mental Health Professional Internship Stipend Program. This grant program will provide funding for participating school districts to pay internship stipends to school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses who are working to complete their degree and certification requirements. This legislation is based on a similar, successful program in Ohio that is allowing schools there to ensure a stable pipeline of caring, highly-trained professionals who are prepared to meet the needs of students.
School-based mental health professionals face significant barriers in earning their credentials. For example, school psychologists must intern 1200 hours in a school placement while they earn their degree. Additionally, these fields carry high student loan debt burdens and come with lower salaries than equivalent private sector jobs. “In talking with teachers, parents and students and hearing their concerns, there is obviously an ever-growing need for additional school-based mental health workers,” Senator Michele Brooks said. “It is my hope that this legislation will attract talent to the profession and sustain interns financially while they gain valuable training through a stipend during their internships.” Senator Williams agreed, saying, “We’re facing a staffing shortage crisis across all areas of our schools, and that includes school counselors, nurses, and social workers. This grant program will help to eliminate some of the barriers faced by these professionals, creating more opportunities for qualified individuals to serve our students.”
Second, Senator Williams and Senator Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny) are co-sponsoring SB 1285, which will focus the majority of grants awarded through the PCCD School Safety and Security program for the 2022-23 school year on funding applications for projects that support students’ behavioral and mental health. This legislation is modeled after a similar step that the General Assembly took in 2020, when it temporarily focused these grants on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a member of Pennsylvania’s School Safety and Security Committee, I have been a leading advocate for more resources for mental health services in our schools,” Brewster said. “This legislation will direct a majority of funding for 2022-2023 to school districts for additional mental and behavioral health programming.”
“Even before the pandemic, students have been telling us that there is a growing youth mental heath crisis,” said Senator Williams. “Safe2Say reports let us know that bullying, suicide, and self-harm are three of the biggest problems facing our students right now, and it’s time for the General Assembly to take action to address these. We’ve talked about how the pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our students for over two years—it’s long past time we start taking action to fund the services that can provide immediate assistance to those students.”
Finally, Senator Williams is sponsoring SB1207, which requires schools to create and conduct annual medical emergency response drills to give children developmentally-appropriate skills to find an adult in a medical emergency where their teacher is unresponsive. Senator Williams drafted this legislation after meeting with a local recent Fox Chapel School District graduate, Elizabeth Crookston, who described her personal experience when she and other young students didn’t know the best way to get the attention of another adult in the building when their teacher had a medical emergency in the classroom.
Ms. Crookston said “It isn’t unusual for students not to know how to get an outside line from classroom phones. This safety training that gives students specific action steps to take in an emergency will empower students in an emergency and make schools safer. I’m grateful to Senator Williams for believing in giving students the tools they need to make schools safer.”
“We don’t expect our students to perform first aid, but we want them to know how to immediately contact a responsible adult in the building if there is an emergency,” said Senator Williams. “Having appropriate tools like knowing how to use the classroom telephone to call the office or get an outside line, knowing your classroom number, and knowing which adult they should contact first can save precious moments in an emergency and potentially save a life. I’m incredibly thankful to Elizabeth for bringing this problem to my attention and for her advocacy in helping to create a thoughtful solution.”