Sen. VanderWall, Rep. Kahle Introduce SMART Plan to Michigan Legislature

New legislation has been introduced to incentivize school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists to continue working with school systems and grow their mental health care services.

Under the Student Mental Health Apprenticeship for Retention and Training, or SMART program, school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists will be provided with substantial tuition assistance for their commitment to remain at their district they service after completing specialized certifications and master’s level educational requirements.

“Studies continue to show us that there is a great need to improve access to mental health care within our school systems — and we know that need has been accelerated by responses to the pandemic over the past two years,” said Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington. “Many times, 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 would 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.”

“The government’s response to COVID and the effects of the virus itself have left no one in our community unscathed. Whether a person was infected by the virus, lost a job or a livelihood, was plagued by fear or was traumatized by extended, forced periods of isolation, the pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on all of us,” said  Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian. “Research is showing that children and youth have borne the brunt of this trauma, as evidenced by the tragic and sharp rise in rates of addiction, depression, and suicide among this age group. These priceless young people represent our future and it is imperative that every student have access to quality counseling.”

The plan comes as Michigan ranks second to last among the U.S. for having counselors available to students, with one counselor for every 671 students, according to a report from the American School Counselor Association. The Michigan School Counselor Association als0 reported that only 2,100 of Michigan’s 6,300 licensed school counselors are practicing.

The Michigan Legislature says comparatively, there is one qualified school psychologist for every 1,521 students in the state, which is above the national average of one for every 1,211 as reported by the National Association of School Psychologists.

“It is imperative that we invest in the future of our students by investing in the development of trained professionals who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to support academic success, social-emotional development, and the career preparedness of our K-12 students,” said Terri Tchorzynski, Michigan School Counselor Association president.

Senator VanderWall and Representative Kahle say the plan will have a “positive and meaningful” impact for Michigan students.

“I have listened and learned from dedicated school counselors and behavioral health professionals from across Lenawee County and with the severe shortage of qualified mental health providers, they are stretched far too thin. This plan will ensure experienced and well-educated counselors stay working in our schools where they are so greatly needed,” Kahle said.

VanderWall added, “There is an overwhelming need to improve the state of mental health care programs within schools across Northern Michigan and the entire state; the SMART plan is a smart move in the right direction for the students who need these recourses.”