School Mental Health Task Force
The 86th Texas Legislature charged TEA in HB 906 to develop a Mental Health Task Force to study and evaluate mental health services that are funded by the state and provided at a school district or open-enrollment charter school directly to a student, parent or family member or employee. The Task Force is also directed to study training provided to an educator and the impact of the mental health training and services. The Task Force will be supported by an institution of higher education to collect and analyze data. TEA is responsible to appoint the membership of the Task Force and support the work and goals of the Task Force, as outlined in the legislation and as identified by the Task Force.
Key Gaps and Recommendations from 2023 Report
Gap 1: Appropriate Staffing to Address Student Needs and Supports
- The Texas Legislature should allocate funds to TEA specifically dedicated funding to reduce counselor-to-student ratios, with the target ratio of 1 professional school counselor to every 350 students. In addition, the legislature should direct TEA to require that students at all campuses have access to a school counselor. TEA collects data on school staffing and should have the capacity to monitor district capacity to achieve this minimum ratio. Currently, the Public Education Information System (PEIMS) reports only district-level reporting of full-time equivalent (FTE) counselors, while data on counselor FTEs should be reported in PEIMS by campus to reinforce the importance of student access to a counselor on each school campus. The Task Force believes both this minimum staffing and reporting are required for districts to have the capacity to implement the Texas Model Guide and fulfill the intentions of SB 179 (87R).
- To ensure that professional school counselors can dedicate at least 80% of their time to counselor duties, as reflected in SB 179, school leaders should attend required training in the role of school counselors (as reflected in the Texas model) and the professional development needs of school counselors. Additionally, the Legislature could clarify language in SB 179 around what is mandated (versus recommended), the role of TEA in oversight, and accountability related to the law.
- Workforce shortages exist across multiple roles, including professional school counselors, and shortages in one profession, such as teachers, impact other disciplines. The state should address the workforce shortages by increasing the number of people choosing a counselor career by offering student loan forgiveness, incentives, and scholarships for individuals to obtain the training needed for this profession and work in the field. Current concerns include staffing shortages with teachers and their effect on the teacher/student ratio, requiring more substitutes, and competing with teachers for staff positions.
Gap 2: Adequate Funding and Effective Training and Coaching to Implement an MTSS Framework
- Implementation of multi-tiered programs and strategies to address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students requires adequate funding for staffing, evidence-based programming, and training and coaching to support implementation. The Texas Legislature, the Texas Education Agency, and school districts should prioritize and dedicate resources needed to implement robust multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) that provide for a coordinated array of promotion and prevention strategies, early intervention services, and linkages and referrals to community-based service providers for families seeking mental health services for their children.
- The Task Force recommends that the Texas Legislature fund a state center on school mental health or a consortium of higher education institutes to collaborate on supporting school-based mental health across the state. Potential roles of the state center are detailed in the report.
- The Task Force recommends the Texas Legislature direct The Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC), in partnership with TEA, to develop appropriate criteria – and corresponding metrics – to evaluate the effectiveness of a school district’s Safe and Supportive Schools Program (SSSP) plan and MTSS framework about the inclusion of practical mental and behavioral health safety strategies for implementation. For this recommendation to be successful, the legislature must attach funding to its directive. Once the evaluation framework has been established and approved by the legislature, the TxSSC, in cooperation with TEA, should conduct annual reviews of a sample of SSSP plans and MTSS frameworks for mental and behavioral health among a randomized sample of school districts, as well as others that are selected due to “at-risk” indicators. The external reviews could inform changes to SSSP training activities and assist districts with SSSP development.
Gap 3. Data Collection and Accountability for the MTSS for Mental Health
- TEA should support the development of an electronic platform that school districts can use to conduct annual school climate surveys. The surveys collected by districts should be confidential and available only to the district administrators but could be shared with stakeholders at the district’s discretion as a best practice. The platform should allow districts to customize the surveys to meet the district’s needs while maintaining a core set of items required of all districts. The platform should include real-time access to data visualizations following the closure of the survey, as well as disaggregation by informant characteristics (e.g., grade and gender). The platform should include anonymous surveys completed by staff, students, and families. The platform should allow schools to benchmark their results against the average of Texas schools with similar characteristics and track results over time. Additionally, after school climate surveys are launched on the platform, TEA should consider adding optional survey modules allowing districts to measure student health and wellness and student social, emotional, and behavioral competencies.
- The Task Force recommends that data collection processes for the Safe and Supportive School Program (SSSP) codified under Texas Education Code (TEC) §37.115 be amended to ensure regular and coordinated reporting of data elements to evaluate school mental health in compliance with HB 906. Multiple recommendations are detailed in the report, based on responses to the task force’s 2022 district survey and analysis of the SSSP reporting to TEA in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
- Require school districts to report the use of positive behavioral interventions), and alternatives to exclusionary discipline in Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). Current requirements focus solely on exclusionary discipline and do not allow for examining the responses available to Local Education Agency (LEAs). Adding alternative options in PEIMS could prompt LEAs to consider these research-based options as part of meaningful discipline and learning actions. Positive behavioral interventions may include positive behavioral interventions and Supports (PBIS) strategies, classroom de-escalation strategies, counseling, skill building, student-family conferencing, restorative practices, wrap-around services, providing and connecting families with mental health services, etc.