Increasing Transparency and Accountability to Behavioral Health Services for Students

January 19, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Five years after California switched the responsibility of providing mental health services in student Individualized Education Programs from county mental health departments to school districts, it is unclear whether the change has actually improved students’ educational progress.

To evaluate whether the change has actually helped or hindered special education students, Senator Jim Beall, introduced legislation today to require school districts and the California Department of Education to document the services and funding provided to students and their effectiveness and report their outcomes to the Legislature.

Beall also called for requiring school districts to document when a student’s Individualized Education Program is modified, including notifying parents to ensure they understand that their child’s IEP has been changed. Legislation will also allow for counties and school districts to collaborate on providing behavioral health screenings and services, a practice that could draw down significantly more federal funds for Medi-Cal eligible children.

Senate Bill 884 was introduced in the wake of a California State Auditor’s report that cites a lack of state tracking and analysis of special education students’ graduation and drop-out rates as the key factor for being unable to determine if students are getting the help they deserve under the law.

“The audit shows that the state has to do a better job of  determining the effectiveness of the changes made by Assembly Bill 114 in 2011,’’ Beall said. “We have no way to compare the past with the present. This hinders our ability to know if students are getting the services they need and whether the services are effective. Right now, we have no idea if we are getting a good return on our investment. For the sake of the students, families, we have to know whether the new system is serving them or not.’’

About 700,000 students -- 7.5 percent of all school-age children in California – have a serious behavioral health disorder, but only 120,000 receive therapy, or counseling as part of their IEP. This gap clearly demonstrates that not all students who could benefit from behavioral health services have been given an IEP or access to these services.

The audit, which examined four Local Education Agencies, found that in some instances, school districts had “removed mental health services from students IEPs . . . but could not explain why services were removed.’’ Further, the audited LEAs did not keep track of their expenditures for mental health services; two of the four agencies had not spent all its funding to provide mental health services

 “The whole idea behind IEPs is to create accountability, clarity, and partnership,’’ Beall said. “The community’s trust in its schools is undermined when districts can change an IEP, which can severely affect a student’s educational attainment, without informing the student’s parents.

“We also need to get our school districts to work with the counties to provide the necessary mental health services to all of our students who need them. Part of the reforms I am suggesting will include increasing access to behavioral health services for all students, funded through federal dollars we currently leave on the table.’’

Senate Bill 884 is currently a spot bill enabling language to be added.