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Senate passes VanderWall’s SMART legislation to improve mental health care for Michigan’s students

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Thursday gave its unanimous approval to  Sen. Curt VanderWall’s bill to incentivize school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists to continue working within school systems and grow their mental health care services.

“Our schools need more help to provide students with the mental health care resources they need — and we know that need has been accelerated by responses to the pandemic over the past two years. This bill will provide some meaningful assistance,” said VanderWall, R-Ludington.

Senate Bill 1012 would establish the Student Mental Health Apprenticeship for Retention and Training, or SMART program, to provide school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists substantial tuition assistance for their commitment to remain within the district they service while completing specialized certifications and master’s level educational requirements.

“Often, we see that mental health professionals will serve a particular school district in an apprenticeship or internship capacity as part of educational and training requirements and then go on to leave these schools after receiving their degree or certification. The SMART plan will encourage these professionals to remain within these school systems, where they are critically needed, and to have ownership and grow vitally important mental health care programs in the school,” VanderWall said.

“The bottom line is that there is an overwhelming need to improve the state of mental health care programs within schools across rural and Northern Michigan and the entire state; this plan will ultimately help students who need these recourses.”

Michigan ranks second to last among U.S. states and territories for having counselors available to students — one counselor for every 671 students, according to the most recent American School Counselor Association report. The organization recommends a ratio of 1:250. The Michigan School Counselor Association reported in a recent Detroit Free Press article that only around 2,100 of the state’s 6,300 licensed school counselors are practicing.

Comparatively, there is one qualified school psychologist for every 1,521 students in Michigan, which is above the national average of one for every 1,211 as reported by the National Association of School Psychologists, which recommends a ratio of 1:500.