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Over half of public schools report staffing, funding limit their efforts to effectively provide mental health services to students in need

By
National Center for Education Statistics, Press Release

Forty-eight percent of public schools reported that they are able to effectively provide mental health services to all students who need them, a nearly 10-percentage-point decline from 2021-2022, according to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

The most commonly identified barriers to providing effective mental health services include insufficient mental health professional staff coverage to manage caseload (55 percent), inadequate funding (54 percent), and inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals (49 percent).

“We’ve always known that the responsibilities of schools go beyond academics, but these new data shine important light on the demands they face to support students who struggle with mental health issues,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “These challenges can be significant obstacles to student learning and well-being if not properly addressed. In the latest School Pulse Panel survey, more than half of our public schools reported inadequate mental health staff or funding as limiting their efforts to effectively provide mental health services to all students who need them. Students’ mental health services are a growing need as 58 percent of schools reported an increase in students seeking mental health services.”

Nearly all public schools (97 percent) provide some type of mental health services to students, the data show. The most frequently offered services are individual-based intervention (84 percent), case management (70 percent), providing external referrals (67 percent) and group-based interventions (64 percent). Schools reported, on average, about one-in-five students (19 percent) utilize such services.

The new data build on NCES findings reported in a recent School Pulse Panel release. It reported that about 4 in 10 school leaders said they were “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about their students’ mental health (43 percent), as well as the mental health of their teachers or staff (41 percent). Twenty-seven percent of responding school leaders said they were “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about their own mental health.

The School Pulse Panel survey also provides insights on school policies related to and experiences with students who have suffered concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. Thirty-eight percent of public schools reported having to support at least one student returning to the classroom after sustaining a concussion or other traumatic brain injury (TBI). Some differences exist compared with the national estimate.

For example, a lower percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having to support at least one student after sustaining a concussion or other TBI: those in high-poverty neighborhoods (24 percent), elementary schools (24 percent), and those with a student population made up of more than 75 percent students of color (25 percent). Also, a higher percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having to do so: schools with 1,000 or more students (70 percent) and high/secondary schools (57 percent).

Three in four schools reported that they (or their district) have a concussion or TBI policy. Meanwhile, 58 percent of public schools said they have at least one person on staff trained to help students adjust back into classroom activities after sustaining a concussion or TBI.

The NCES data also address staffing for the next academic year. Sixty-seven percent of public schools anticipate having to fill multiple teaching vacancies, and 59 percent anticipate needing to fill multiple non-teaching staff vacancies before the 2024-25 school year. Both represent an increase when compared to expectations prior to the 2022-23 school year (See Key Findings section for more information).

The findings are part of an experimental data product from the School Pulse Panel, NCES’s innovative approach to delivering timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on public K-12 schools in the U.S. The data, collected between March 12 and 26 of 2024, came from 1,683 participating public K-12 schools from every state and the District of Columbia.

Additional data collected from 99 public K-12 schools in the U.S. Outlying Areas – American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands – are also available. Results from this collection include the finding that 51 percent of Outlying Area public schools reported that they are able to effectively provide mental health services to all students who need them.

Experimental data products are innovative statistical tools created using new data sources or methodologies. Experimental data may not meet all of NCES’s quality standards but are of sufficient benefit to data users in the absence of other relevant products to justify release. NCES clearly identifies experimental data products upon their release.

All data can be found on the School Pulse Panel dashboard at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/spp/results.asp.

Key Findings

Mental Health and Well-Being

Nearly all public schools provide some sort of mental health services to students (97 percent) during the 2023-24 school year. The most commonly reported mental health services for students offered by public schools are individual-based intervention (84 percent), case management (70 percent), providing external referrals (67 percent), and group-based intervention (64 percent).

Among public schools offering any type of mental health services to students (97 percent):

• On average, public schools reported that 19 percent of their student body utilize school-based mental health services.

• The majority of public schools used a mix of provider types (two or more) to provide mental health services to students (75 percent, a statistically significant decrease from 2021-22 [80 percent]).

The providers include school counselors (75 percent, a statistically significant decrease from 2021-22 [83 percent]), school- or district-employed licensed mental health professionals (67 percent), outside practices or programs (57 percent), and school nurses (17 percent, a statistically significant decrease from 2021-22 [25 percent]).

Forty-eight percent of public schools agreed with the statement “My school is able to effectively provide mental health services to all students in need,” which is a statistically significant decrease from the percent that agreed during the 2021-22 school year (56 percent).

The most commonly cited factors that limit schools’ efforts to effectively provide mental health services to all students who need them are insufficient mental health professional staff coverage to manage caseload (55 percent), inadequate funding (54 percent) and inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals (49 percent).

Thirty-seven percent of public schools reported using federal grants or other federal programs to fund mental health services for students, a statistically significant decrease from the 53 percent that reported using these funds during the 2021-22 school year.

Compared to last school year (2022-23),
• Fifty-eight percent of public schools reported that the percentage of students who sought school-based mental health services increased, including 19 percent that reported it “increased a lot.”
• Sixty-one percent of public schools reported that the percentage of staff expressing concerns with students’ exhibiting depression, anxiety, trauma, or emotional dysregulation/disturbance increased, including 23 percent that reported it “increased a lot.”

Eighty-five percent of public schools reported that staff have access to mental health services through the school. The most commonly reported services available to staff are employee assistance programs (EAPs) that have a mental health component (59 percent), referrals to mental health services outside of school (37 percent), and mental health-related professional development (33 percent).

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Thirty-eight percent of public schools reported that they have had to support at least one student returning to the classroom after sustaining a concussion or other traumatic brain injury (TBI) during the 2023-24 school year.

Compared to the national estimate (38 percent), a higher percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having to support at least one student returning to the classroom after sustaining a concussion or other TBI:
• With 1,000 or more students (70 percent)
• High/secondary schools (57 percent)
• Middle/combined schools (53 percent)
• With a student body made up of less than 25 percent students of color (51 percent)
• In the Northeast (49 percent).

Compared to the national estimate (38 percent), a lower percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having to support at least one student returning to the classroom after sustaining a concussion or other TBI:
• Elementary schools (24 percent)
• In high-poverty neighborhoods (24 percent)
• With a student body made up of greater than 75 percent students of color (25 percent)
• With fewer than 300 students (28 percent)
• In cities (30 percent).

Fifty-eight percent of public schools reported that they have at least one person who is trained on how to help students adjust back into classroom activities after sustaining a concussion or TBI, while 94 percent reported they have staff at the school who could be trained in this area.
Seventy-five percent of public schools reported that they have a concussion or TBI policy.

Upcoming Hiring Cycle

Sixty-seven percent of public schools anticipate having to fill multiple teaching vacancies before the 2024-25 school year, which is a statistically significant increase from the percentage of public schools that had such expectations prior to the 2022-23 school year (56 percent).

Compared to the national estimate (67 percent), a higher percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having multiple teaching vacancies to fill before the 2024-25 school year:
• With more than 1,000 students (86 percent)
• In the South (76 percent)
• With 500 to 999 students (74 percent).

Compared to the national estimate (67 percent), a lower percentage of public schools with the following characteristics reported having multiple teaching vacancies to fill before the 2024-25 school year:
• With less than 300 students (59 percent)
• In the West (59 percent)
• With a student body made up of less than 25 percent students of color (61 percent).

For teaching positions, some of the most commonly anticipated positions that will need to be filled prior to the 2024-25 school year are: general elementary (58 percent), special education (52 percent), math (34 percent), and English/language arts (33 percent).

Fifty-nine percent of public schools anticipate having to fill multiple non-teaching staff positions before the 2024-25 school year, which is a statistically significant increase from the percentage of public schools that had such expectations prior to the 2022-23 school year (45 percent).

For non-teaching staff positions, some of the most commonly anticipated positions that will need to be filled prior to the 2024-25 school year are: classroom aides (45 percent), transportation staff (36 percent), custodial staff (26 percent) and tutors (22 percent).


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