Tester urges colleagues to fully fund grants aimed at high-school counseling services

by Missoula Current

Sen. Jon Tester on Friday said he would urge his fellow lawmakers to fully fund grants from the U.S. Department of Education to boost access to school counseling and mental health services.

Tester said his decision was driven in part by a study at Great Falls Public Schools, which found that 25 percent of high-school students had seriously considered suicide.

“Students across Montana are struggling to overcome the impacts of trauma, abuse, substance use, and endemic poverty in their families’ lives,” Tester wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “Our public educators are dedicated to helping them overcome these struggles and succeed academically, but they need the resources in order to do so.”

In 2015, Tester supported legislation that authorized $1.6 billion annually for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants from the DOE. The grants are awarded to the state and administered to local public school districts to increase student health resources, such as counseling and mental health care services.

But since the legislation was signed into law, Tester said, Congress has only appropriated $400 million for the grants each year, far less than the legislation called for. That has left many school districts without access to the resources needed to hire more counselors and mental health professionals.

“Significant funding increases for these grants could help our public schools meet their students’ mental health needs and give them the tools they need to succeed,” Tester said.

Tester said the new long-term budget, passed by Congress earlier this month, could pave the way for the funding increases needed to support the grants.