Senate Passes Bills to Improve Students' Access to Mental Health Services at Schools

June 02, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Two bills by Senator Jim Beall designed to expand the ability of school districts to provide mental health services for students and strengthen state oversight of how funds for those services are spent were approved by the state Senate this week.

Senate Bill 884 was passed today on a 37-0 vote. A companion bill, SB 1113, was approved on a 39-0 vote on Tuesday. Both bills are now under consideration by the Assembly.

“These bills are about increasing funding for services for special education students and injecting transparency and accountability into the delivery of school-based mental health services,’’ said Beall, who chairs both the Senate’s Select Committee on Mental Health and the Mental Health Caucus.

“My goal is to make the system more responsive and faster for families. Families should not have to wait months for their children to receive treatment or therapy. Neither should parents be blindsided by changes made to their student’s Individualized Education Program without adequate prior notice. My bills address these problems.’’

The bills are a response to to gaps in the system that were uncovered by a state audit requested by Beall last year.  State auditors assigned to evaluate the delivery of mental health services by sampled SELPAs were hampered by a lack of documentation. The state audit revealed none of the surveyed districts could account for how much money they had spent on providing mental health services.  The auditors also were unable to accurately assess the performance and efficiency of the services provided by the school districts due to insufficient tracking and analysis of graduation and drop-out rates.

 In addition, the auditors found some school districts had dropped mental health services that were listed in students’ IEP. School officials were unable to explain to auditors why those services were removed.

Under SB 884, Special Education Local Plan Areas will be required to report their funding allocations and spending on mental health services for students to the California Department of Education. The bill also calls for SELPAs– which are geographically related school districts that join together to create a regional special education service delivery system – to report student outcomes. The Department of Education will analyze the data for year-to-year fluctuations. The information is to be posted on the internet.

SB 1113 provides a framework for school districts that partner with county mental health departments in order to qualify schools for federal reimbursement for the costs of the early screening and diagnosis of Medi-Cal eligible students. The bill would set aside funding to help school districts establish the partnerships.

“SB 1113 will make it easier for California schools to get tens of millions in federal dollars that are now on the table for Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment services,’’ Beall said.