State Superintendent Thurmond Declares Urgent Need to Address Student Trauma and Promotes Effort to Recruit 10,000 Mental Health Clinicians

SACRAMENTO—Earlier this week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond provided testimony to the joint hearing with Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services, Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education Finance, and Assembly Select Committee on Early Childhood Development regarding Children and Youth Behavioral Health Issues and Programs, at which he declared an urgent need to recruit mental health clinicians and unveiled to legislators a bill that, if passed, could help to secure 10,000 mental health clinicians in the state.

“Sadly, during the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in the number of students experiencing depression, suicidal feelings, or other mental health challenges,” said Thurmond.  “At the same time, we are dealing with ongoing challenges in the state’s ability to provide a sufficient number of counselors to support student mental health needs.”

Pointing to California’s historic challenge in filling counseling roles to keep up with community need, Thurmond unveiled Senate Bill (SB) 1229, a bill that could help generate 10,000 new mental health clinicians. The bill would provide grants of $25,000 to aspiring clinicians who commit to serving two years in communities of high need. Seeking solutions to lower student-to-counselor ratios in schools is not a new effort or one unique to California. However, it is believed that with SB 1229, California would be the only state to pursue a plan as ambitious as filling 10,000 new counseling positions.

Thurmond described how his effort to recruit 10,000 clinicians is part of a larger plan to address workforce challenges in the education sector. It’s also a centerpiece of his effort to help students heal from the trauma of the pandemic, recover academically, and thrive as they prepare for the future. Thurmond has simultaneously appointed a workgroup on addressing education sector workforce shortages, which is working to address compensation, training, and recruitment strategies to help offset education staffing shortages in a state that serves six million students.

“Supporting the academic recovery of our students is a top priority, but there is nothing more urgent than addressing the social emotional needs of California students,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond, who holds a master’s degree in social work and worked for years in school-based mental health, is making it a top priority of his administration over the next few years to connect students to counseling supports.

In addition to pursuing SB 1229, Thurmond is administering a grant program to equip schools with tools to counter social isolation and is also leading an effort to train school districts on how to draw down more federal dollars (Medi-Cal) to provide counseling services. Senator Mike McGuire is the author of SB 1229 and the California Alliance for Children and Family Services is the co-sponsor of the bill with Superintendent Thurmond.

You can see a full recording of Superintendent Thurmond’s remarks from the hearing on CDE’s Facebook page.

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