By Kari A. Oyen
The Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant, part of Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has the potential to have a significant positive influence on educational opportunities and experiences for children across the country and especially in my state of South Dakota. It is imperative that Congress fund Title IV at the full authorized amount of $1.65 billion to ensure these funds have the maximum effect on students and schools. These grants will allow schools to focus on improving opportunities for a well-rounded education, creating safe and supportive learning environments, and providing access to personalized learning services. After all, education is a civil right.
As a school psychologist and mental health professional, I see the need for increased investments to help schools increase comprehensive school mental and behavioral health services, which are so desperately needed to ensure that all students succeed. Title IV funds can be used to improve access to comprehensive school mental and behavioral health services and develop partnerships with community organizations to provide services for students with the most significant needs. School psychologists, in collaboration with other school- and community-based mental health professionals, can and should be an integral part of implementing these services. School psychologists are unique in that they have expertise in learning and psychology and are strategically placed where students spend much of their time—in school!
I see the need every day in the schools and communities I serve. In rural South Dakota, we have a unique challenge of trying to provide mental health services to students where these services do not exist. With the help of Title IV funds, schools could increase their ability to provide safe and supportive conditions for learning and thus aid in serving an otherwise underserved population.
Funds from Title IV grants would greatly benefit students in South Dakota. We could use these funds to strengthen our existing prevention systems, such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Currently, South Dakota has approximately 20 school districts that are participating in development of positive school climates through a PBIS model. With additional funding, a scale-up effort could be utilized, and more students could benefit from safe and supportive learning environments. Additionally, South Dakota has a framework of academic prevention and response efforts. With additional funding and infrastructure, school districts could more effectively screen and intervene with students before academic failure leads to significant negative outcomes.
Congress overwhelmingly voted for the passage of ESSA, including a Title IV authorization of $1.65 billion. Congress must now provide the full appropriation of $1.65 billion to help ensure every district is able to implement the programs that are needed to best serve their students. Current proposals threaten to fund Title IV at levels well below what is needed. South Dakota is one of several states that may not be able to provide each and every district with a grant to help provide these critical services, which is what the law intends, if Congress neglects their responsibility to fully fund Title IV.
Funding education matters, and this is an opportunity to have a significant influence on the success of all students in school! Click here to access ASCD’s action alert portal to find a prewritten e-mail to send to your federal lawmakers.
Kari A. Oyen is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist in the Lennox School District in South Dakota. She was named South Dakota School Psychologist of the Year by the South Dakota Association of School Psychologists in 2015. Connect with Oyen on Twitter @karioyen.