Morning Sun

Schools hiring hundreds of mental health staffers

- By Anna Liz Nichols

LANSING » Schools across Michigan are recruiting 562 mental and physical health profession­als, the governor announced this week as experts said the increase is needed after years of understaff­ing and overburden­ing schools.

The effort to bolster the number of counselors, social workers, psychologi­sts and nurses in schools is being funded by the $17.1 billion state K-12 budget Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed last summer. It included a $240 million allocation to hire staff to support students as they grapple with mental and physical health needs that were highlighte­d and exasperate­d by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic reminded us that schoolbase­d mental and physical health profession­als are not luxuries,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Healthy students — physically, mentally, and social-emotionall­y — are better learners.”

School districts have until March 1 to hire staff to be eligible to apply for grants to fully fund positions with state money.

Michigan has been severely lacking in hiring and retaining mental health support staff for the last decade, said Terri Tchorzynsk­i, president of the Michigan School Counselor Associatio­n.

Michigan ranked second worst in the U.S. in the 2019-2020 school year in its student-to-school-counselor ratio at 671-to-1, according to the American School Counselor Associatio­n, which recommends a 250-to-1 ratio.

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