Student teacher Olivia Vazquez leads students through their morning meeting at the Eliza B. Kirkbride School in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Vazquez is finishing up her last semester at Swarthmore College and hoping to help make sure immigrant students arriving in Philadelphia have a more supportive experience in school than she did growing up. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) School Language Access Philadelphia
Student teacher Olivia Vazquez leads students through their morning meeting at the Eliza B. Kirkbride School in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Vazquez is finishing up her last semester at Swarthmore College and hoping to help make sure immigrant students arriving in Philadelphia have a more supportive experience in school than she did growing up. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The bills would provide funding for mental health-based internships for school counselors and projects that support students’ behavioral and mental health.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are hoping to put more school-based mental health programs and professionals in classrooms throughout the state while also preparing students for potential emergencies.

Sens. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), Michele Brooks (R-Crawford), and Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny) have three bills that they hope will accomplish those goals.

“We’re facing a staffing shortage crisis across all areas of our schools, and that includes school counselors, nurses, and social workers,” Williams said.

Williams and Brooks plan to introduce the School-Based Mental Health Professional Internship Stipend Program. This program would provide funding for participating school districts to pay internship stipends to school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses who are working to complete their degree and certification requirements. 

School-based mental health professionals face significant barriers in earning their credentials. For example, school psychologists must intern 1,200 hours in a school placement while they earn their degree. Additionally, these fields carry high student loan debt burdens and come with lower salaries than equivalent private sector jobs.

Senate Bill 1285, co-sponsored by Brewster, would focus a majority of the grants awarded through the PCCD School Safety and Security program for the upcoming school year on funding applications for projects that support students’ behavioral and mental health. The bill was introduced by Williams and was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

“Even before the pandemic, students have been telling us that there is a growing youth mental health crisis,” Williams said. “We’ve talked about how the pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our students for over two years—it’s long past time we start taking action to fund the services that can provide immediate assistance to those students.”

Williams also introduced Senate Bill 1207 which would require schools to conduct annual medical emergency response drills to help students gain developmentally-appropriate tools and practice in protocols, such as finding a classroom phone, contacting the school nurse, or otherwise alerting an adult that medical attention is needed. The bill was also referred to the Senate Education Committee.

“We don’t expect our students to perform first aid, but we want them to know how to immediately contact a responsible adult in the building if there is an emergency,” Williams said. “Having appropriate tools like knowing how to use the classroom telephone to call the office or get an outside line, knowing your classroom number, and knowing which adult they should contact first can save precious moments in an emergency and potentially save a life.”