ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland officials on Tuesday highlighted the availability of $120 million in grants for behavioral and mental health services to help K-12 students over the next year and a half.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, described the funding as a historic investment that is critical to the state's 900,000 school children at a time when kids are facing the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on learning and socialization.
“We can’t just put it all on teachers. We can’t just put it all on principals," said Ferguson, a former high school teacher. "We need the supports that are in the community to come into the school buildings and work in partnership to really provide the level of engagement and support that kids need to be their best selves.”
Ferguson made the announcement with Laura Herrera Scott, the state's health secretary, and members of the Consortium on Coordinated Community Supports, a 25-member panel that has been working on developing a statewide framework to expand access to services for students.
The grants have been set aside to provide counseling, as well as behavioral health services in school and in communities.
Herrera Scott said the idea is for schools to partner with community-based providers to deliver services before children and their families are in crisis.
“We envision a system that operates as a seamless health care continuum that includes prevention, primary behavioral health care, culturally competent crisis services and addresses ongoing mental health and substance abuse needs that support children and help them thrive in their communities and their schools," the health secretary said.
Del. Eric Ebersole, a Baltimore County Democrat who worked as a teacher in the county for 35 years, described the funding as a first step in efforts to expand access to high-quality mental health and wraparound services outside of schools.
“The community partnerships that we’re forming and are strengthening through this process will ensure that we’re connecting to — and in some cases creating — innovative and collaborative ways to improve the behavioral health of our children and by default improve their education,” Ebersole said.
David Rudolph, a former state legislator who is chairing the consortium, said it's hoped grants will begin to be awarded in December.
“We encourage service providers throughout the state to be involved and working with the school system so that we can address what I consider the No. 1 issue facing our young people today and that’s the mental and behavioral health that they’re facing in our school systems,” Rudolph said.