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Published April 27, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Legislation aimed at addressing the mental health needs of Tennessee’s K-12 students is advancing through House committees. The bill has found support with many mental health advocacy groups, despite opposition from some lawmakers.
$250 million is slated to be allocated for a Mental Health Trust Fund, which will establish the groundwork for a long-term program. This fund will be used to provide mental health support and services to Tennessee students.
The proposal utilizes abundant one-time funding from tax revenues as an investment that will have an impact well into the future. The trust fund will be used to implement long-term programs to address bullying, provide trauma-informed training for educators, and more.
Proponents maintain that as the fund builds and grows over time, there will be flexibility in how it can be used to address mental health issues that are known now, as well as any unknown challenges that may surface in the future.
The bill would invest $225 million into an endowment account for future needs, with the remaining $25 million to be used for a statewide needs assessment. The endowment would then generate interest that can then be dispersed by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Department of Education.
The assessment will better determine what the needs are at the local level and what student supports would work best.
Recently released projections show that the Mental Health Trust Fund would only generate around $4.5 million every year. This projection is only a third of what it was when the bill was first proposed.
Senator Joey Hensley, the only Republican lawmaker to oppose the governor’s bill, has said a trust fund might not be the best answer to a more widespread issue.
“Why would we choose to [address] mental health problems by tying up $250 million? Why don’t we just fund what we need every year?” Hensley asked during a recent Senate Finance Committee.
However, the bill has continued to advance. The $250 million is in addition to approximately $18 million in federal funds for Mental Health and Family Resource Centers to support student mental health needs.
Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year, with over 60 percent of children receiving mental health services through their school.
Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund will include direct clinical services in schools; mental health awareness and promotion; suicide prevention strategies; trauma-informed programs and practices; violence and bullying prevention. It will also include Project Basic, a program that includes mental health support for students.
While the trust fund will not be used to hire new mental health specialists for schools, Governor Lee said it will be especially helpful for families without insurance.
Lee’s press secretary, Casey Black, said the bill is a “fiscally conservative approach to ensure Tennessee students have access to critical resources in the long term.”
Republican Senator Todd Gardenhire from Chattanooga has shown his support for the bill, as well.
He said, “If you throw $250 million at a problem all at once, it will be spent all at once and you’ll set up a bureaucracy that we just can’t keep funding each year.”