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PA Educators: Use ARP Funds to Support Student Mental Health


Monday, August 9, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. - For many young people, the social isolation of the pandemic has had negative effects, and as Commonwealth students prepare to return to the classroom, educators want districts to use funds from the American Rescue Plan to support mental-health services.

Pennsylvania is receiving $5 billion federal dollars, most of which will go toward addressing learning loss and expanding after-school programs. The state will have $1.6 billion left for other areas.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said he hopes part of the money goes toward hiring more school counselors and other mental health professionals.

"Student mental health and emotional well-being, it has to be a top priority," said Askey. "And this is going to be important for the health of our students, but it also ties to their academic achievement. It all comes together, so as we know it's a lot harder for students to excel when they're dealing with mental and emotional health issues."

In a survey from the Children's Hospital of Chicago, 71% of parents said the pandemic has taken a toll on their children's mental health.

School districts in Pennsylvania have until 2024 to use funds received from the American Rescue Plan.

Joe Welch teaches eighth grade social studies at North Hills Middle School in Pittsburgh.

He said he's preparing to head back into the classroom after a year and a half of a mix of virtual and in-person learning, and said it's been difficult connecting with students he wasn't seeing face-to-face.

Welch said his school already used some federal funds to double its number of school psychologists, from two to four. Still, he said there's more work to be done to serve the mental well being of the four thousand students in his district.

"But what I would like to continue to see is that this is a priority, that we continue to have specialists and educators be at the forefront of working together as a team," said Welch. "It's really - it is a glaring need. It was before COVID. And I don't think anybody will dispute that."

Welch also said he'd like to see some of the ARP funding support social and emotional training for teachers.

Disclosure: Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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