- President Joe Biden on Sunday announced 13 new actions to “maximize the benefits” of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to improve school safety and reduce gun violence. The initiatives come ahead of the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.
- The U.S. Department of Education has awarded nearly $1 billion through the act's Stronger Connections Grant Program to fund state competitions for high-need school districts to apply for funding. These grants can go toward expanding school-based mental health services, addressing physical school security, providing safety and violence prevention programs and more.
- Additionally, the Education Department has provided over $280 million — with assistance from BSCA funding — to better support school-based mental health services. The White House estimates 14,000 more mental health workers, including school psychologists, counselors and social workers, will enter schools due to this influx of funding.
The White House’s 13-point plan to make the most of BSCA funding for school safety comes as the number of school shootings in the first three months of 2023 surpassed the same period last year.
Other K-12 initiatives in the announcement include almost $60 million in BSCA grants to schools from the Department of Justice to improve school safety. That funding will specifically go toward implementing school safety measures, bolstering school violence prevention efforts, training for school personnel and students, supporting evidence-based threat assessments, and backing research on school violence’s causes and consequences.
To help schools handle the trauma and mental health challenges tied to gun violence, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will be tasked with urging governors to use BSCA and Medicaid funding for those purposes. HHS will also provide guidance for early childhood providers using BSCA funding to address mental health and gun violence trauma. Furthermore, HHS and the Education Department will provide resources on how schools can tap into Medicaid funding to cover school-based health services for students suffering from the physical and mental impacts of gun violence.
In a September letter to state education leaders, Cardona stressed that the distribution of BSCA funds should be geared toward high-need districts — those with high poverty rates and at least one other identifier, such as a high student-to-mental-health-professional ratio or a recent natural disaster or traumatic event. Other factors to be considered include high rates of chronic absenteeism, exclusionary discipline, and/or referrals to the juvenile justice system, bullying or harassment, community and school violence, or substance abuse.
The surge in federal funding for the K-12 mental health workforce comes as schools face a lack of qualified personnel or candidates to enter the pipeline. At the same time, more counselors are entering schools at record numbers: The American School Counselor Association reported the national student-to-counselor ratio has reached its lowest point in over three decades, dipping to 408:1 in the 2021-22 school year.
The Education Department has already provided $50 million in BSCA funds for out-of-school programs that aim to improve engagement and attendance among middle and high school students.