Items of Interest in the State of the Union for Education Leaders

In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden is planning to discuss a variety of issues that impact the lives of educators. Here is a peek at some of the topics he will focus on, pulled from his newly released budget.

Expand access to mental health support in schools, colleges and universities.  

The president has committed to doubling the number of school-based mental health professionals. The Department of Education (ED) will continue to support states, school districts, colleges and universities in using relief funds—including the more than $160 billion invested by the American Rescue Plan in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)—to address the mental health needs of students, including by training, recruiting and retaining more school- and college- and university-based mental health professionals. With the help of ESSER funds, schools already have seen a 65% increase in social workers and a 17% increase in counselors. To help schools sustain these roles, the Department of Health and Human Services will make it easier for school-based mental health professionals to seek reimbursement from Medicaid, and the president’s FY23 budget will propose $1 billion to help schools hire additional counselors and school psychologists and other health professionals.

Strengthen children’s privacy and ban targeted advertising for children online.

The online platforms have billions of users worldwide, many of whom use the platforms for hours a day. These companies know everything from where users are physically located at any moment to how many seconds they spend reading a particular post, to intimate personal data like what medical symptoms they have been researching. Children also are subject to the platforms’ intensive and excessive data collection vacuum, which they use to deliver sensational and harmful content and troves of paid advertising to our kids. By one estimate, online advertising firms hold 72 million data points on the average child by the time they reach the age of 13. The president is calling on Congress to ban excessive data collection on and targeted advertising online for children and young people.

Institute stronger online protections for young people, including prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products and services.

Social media platforms are designed to be addictive, too often deliver age-inappropriate content, promote unhealthy social comparisons, and enable harassment, child sexual exploitation, stalking and cyberbullying. Children, adolescents and teens are uniquely vulnerable to harmful and dangerous content online. Other democratic countries have been acting to prevent and reduce the online harms to their children. The presiden thinks not only that we should have far stronger protections for children’s data and privacy, but that the platforms and other interactive digital service providers should be required to prioritize and ensure the health, safety and well-being of children and young people above profit and revenue in the design of their products and services.

Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision making that limits opportunities for young Americans.

 When a girl searches for jobs online, platforms too often push her away from fields like engineering that historically have excluded women. Searches for “Black girls,” “Asian girls” or “Latina girls” too often return harmful content, including pornography rather than role models, toys or activities. Platforms shape how our kids understand what is possible and access opportunities. When young people are treated unfairly, it can have mental health impacts, including anxiety and depression. We must ensure that platforms and other algorithmically enhanced systems do not discriminatorily target our kids.

Invest in research on social media’s mental harms. 

Ample research has now emerged that social media is associated with negative mental health outcomes, particularly among young people, and that children younger than 18 are disproportionately vulnerable to the dangerous and harmful content  they might encounter online. More research, however, is needed to understand why and how these harms occur—and how they can be prevented and treated. To meet this need, the president’s FY23 budget will dedicate at least $5 million toward advancing research on social media’s harms, as well as the clinical and societal interventions we might deploy to address them. Over the next year, the Department of Health and Human Services also will launch a national Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness, which will develop and disseminate information, guidance and training on the full impact of adolescent social media use, especially the risks these services pose to their mental health.      

Expand early childhood and school-based intervention services and supports.

Half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14. When systems act to promote well-being at early developmental stages, youth reap the mental and emotional benefits for years to come. The American Rescue Plan dedicated millions of dollars to youth mental health. The president’s FY23 budget builds on this investment and proposes to make historic investments in youth mental health services, including more than $70 million in infant and early childhood mental health programs. For example, Project LAUNCH works to ensure that the systems that serve young children have the resources and knowledge necessary to foster their social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral development. The FY23 budget also will continue funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program of the Department of Health and Human Services, which supports new families by teaching positive parenting skills, conducting developmental and mental health screenings, promoting school readiness, and linking to community resources and supports. Additionally, the president’s FY23 budget will propose to dramatically expand funding for community schools by increasing funding for the Full-Service Community School program by more than $400 million dollars relative to current levels—a more than tenfold increase. Community schools provide a range of wraparound supports to students and their families, including mental health services and other integrated student supports.

Set students up for success. 

When students struggle in school, it impacts their well-being. A comprehensive strategy to support student wellness must also include efforts to address the impact of the pandemic on student learning, particularly on students most impacted by the pandemic, and create supportive learning environments. ED will continue to help states and school districts use the $122 billion in ARP ESSER funds for this purpose. Specifically, the department will help states and districts use the funds to provide more individual and small group instruction, hire instructional and other critical staff, launch high-impact tutoring programs, provide high-quality afterschool and summer learning and enrichment programs, and invest in other evidence-based strategies that will help our students recover from the pandemic. Districts nationwide already are using ARP ESSER funds to invest in these strategies. To support this work, we need more caring adults taking on roles supporting students. The president is calling on Americans nationwide to take on roles as tutors and mentors to help our students recover. Those looking to return to the workforce, or who are just out of school or changing careers, should consider the rich, rewarding job opportunities in our schools and with our young people. The investments the president will propose in his FY23 budget will support and sustain efforts that set up students for success. This includes more than doubling funding for Title I, a tenfold increase for the Full-Service Community School program, and a historic $3.3 billion increase for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants that support PK–12 children with disabilities and $450 million for IDEA PART C, which supports early intervention services for infants and toddlers.

Increase mental health resources for justice-involved populations.

In too many communities, jails and other correctional facilities have become the largest provider of mental health care. Approximately 40% of incarcerated individuals have a mental illness, yet only one-third of those with a diagnosis receive treatment. The president thinks we have both a moral and a public health obligation to increase access to comprehensive mental health care for the justice-involved. To this end, the Department of Justice will expand funding and technical assistance to local communities and corrections systems to provide behavioral health care, case management services, family services and other transitional programming for adults returning from incarceration into the community. 

Train social and human services professionals in basic mental health skills. 

It’s not enough to train health care providers to deliver mental health care; social and human services providers must also be equipped to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and addiction among those they serve. To this end, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch a national effort to train housing counselors, housing-based services coordinators and Fair Housing grantee staff to recognize the signs of emotional distress and to connect residents with mental health resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide training on mental health resources and communication strategies to Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area field employees, who serve farmers and ranchers, as well as incorporate updated mental health information into its online resource center for state, local and clinic staff administering the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). ED will continue to highlight the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid training for educators, so that they can better support their students and one another. And the Department of Health and Human Services will provide additional training support to Head Start, Early Head Start and home visiting grantees to spot and address mental health challenges among children.