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MI schools seek solutions as pandemic mental health funding ends

Special state funding for mental health staff at Michigan public schools during the pandemic is ending this year, leaving schools scrambling to find ways to keep the professionals in the building.

The $240-million grant started in 2021, as students coped with challenges, from virtual learning and canceled sports to losing a loved one to COVID. Now, districts are seeking alternatives.

Diane Golzynski, deputy superintendent of business, health and library services for the Michigan Department of Education, said the options include a program known as the School Mental Health Apprenticeship Program to encourage people to choose mental health careers by giving them financial support.

"To pay folks who need to do their supervised practice internships in order to go into this field; it's to give them a small wage, so they can actually do that," Golzynski explained.

She pointed out districts can also apply for Medicaid matching funds for all their eligible work is eligible and use those dollars to keep mental health providers in schools.

Golzynski stressed the goal is to build a comprehensive school mental health system.

"We don't want to just put professionals in the schools, we want to put professionals in the schools that the schools need, because there's different types of professionals," Golzynski noted. "It might be a psychologist, it might be a counselor, it might a social worker, it might be a school nurse."

She emphasized her department is also working with the districts on how to best use their mental health staffers.

Critics might counter it is parents' responsibility to take care of their children's mental health needs. But Golzynski countered it is often in school where these issues are flagged or acknowledged.

"It's the schools partnering with the families to help support this child, so that the child can be the best learner possible," Golzynski asserted.

Golzynski added another school mental health funding program on the table offers a per-pupil allocation to each district.

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