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States Can Leverage ESSA to Improve Student Mental Health Services

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2017

Contact: Renee Lang,, 703-740-4841

States Can Leverage ESSA to Improve Student Mental Health Services

Alexandria, VA — Positive school climate has been linked to higher test scores, graduation rates, and fewer disciplinary referrals. Yet state policy discussions on student supports often fail to address a key lever for improving school climate: robust school-based mental health services. A new NASBE Policy Update outlines challenges to delivering such services and ways states can leverage key provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to improve students’ chances for academic success by providing mental health services.

One of the biggest challenges to delivering mental health services in schools is a lack of resources. Another important one is the view of many education leaders that such services are extra expenses that are not central to the mission of the school. As a result, afflicted students often do not receive the care they need be successful in school.

ESSA encourages states to rethink their approach to mental health in three ways:

  1. Districts must use at least 20 percent of ESSA’s Title IV flexible block grant funds on efforts to improve “student mental and behavioral health, school climate, or school safety.” Such improvements could include screening and early intervention, improving school-community partnerships to promote mental health, mental health first aid, and positive behavior interventions that support the development of life skills.
  2. ESSA requires states to include data about school climate, bullying, and harassment in their annual report cards. Schools with well-adjusted students typically score better on such measures.
  3. States can include school climate measures in their accountability systems. So far, only three states have chosen to include student climate surveys as the added measure of school quality in their ESSA state plans: Illinois, Nevada, and New Mexico.

States can also take advantage of a federal grant program called Project AWARE from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to build their capacity to advance wellness and resilience. Illinois, one of 20 states implementing Project AWARE, is using funds to facilitate partnerships between school districts and community health providers to improve service delivery, and it has outlined a strategy for improving youth mental health in its ESSA state plan.

“The prevalence of mental health problems among children and youth in the United States is significant, as is the evidence that facing these problems early promotes student success and positive school climate,” writes author Lindsey Hofer. “The good news is that there are resources available—through ESSA and SAMHSA—to help states take the next step to promote student mental health.”

Read and share the NASBE policy update “Mental Health in Education.” 

The National Association of State Boards of Education represents America’s state and territorial boards of education. Our principal objectives are to strengthen state leadership in education policymaking, advocate equality of access to educational opportunity, promote excellence in the education of all students, and ensure responsible lay governance of education. Learn more at



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