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VanderWall’s SMART plan to improve mental health care for Michigan’s students signed into law

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Curt VanderWall’s bill to incentivize school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists to continue working within school systems they trained in to help districts grow their mental health care services was signed into law Monday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Our students are under increasing pressures these days and there are not enough resources available to help them manage. The SMART program will get more mental health professionals into our schools to help. I am excited to have Gov. Whitmer’s signature on this important bill for our students,” said VanderWall, R-Ludington.

Senate Bill 1012, now Public Act 180 of 2022, will 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.

“Too 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,” VanderWall said. “Schools across Northern Michigan and the entire state need support to help provide students with the mental health care resources they need. The SMART program will provide meaningful assistance by encouraging these professionals to remain within these school systems — where they are critically needed — and help grow vitally important mental health care programs in the school.”

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 recently reported 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.