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Congressmen Johnson, Balderson, Stivers and Gibbs Announce $2 Million Grant for Mental Health Providers in Appalachian Schools

Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, October 1, 2020 | Ben Keeler (330.337.6951)
Tags: Education
Highly competitive U.S. Department of Education grant awarded to support placing behavioral health specialists in Belmont, Guernsey, Harrison, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble and Tuscarawas county schools. The grant will create a partnership between the local school districts, the Appalachian Children Coalition and Ohio University.

EASTERN AND SOUTHEASTERN OHIO – Members of Congress representing eastern and southeastern Ohio today announced that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $2 million grant from the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program to benefit the children of Appalachia, by providing for the training, hiring, and retention of behavioral health specialists.

The grant will support the creation of a program that will train and place more than 100 mental health providers in schools across seven counties over the next five years. The support from the federal government will create a partnership between the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center, East Central Ohio Educational Service Center, and Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, serving school districts in seven eastern Ohio counties, and Ohio University to create pathways to train mental health providers and place them in local school settings.

“I have long been frustrated by the lack of resources available to help school districts, mental health agencies and higher education institutions in Appalachia and eastern and southeastern Ohio to train and hire specialists to serve the mental and behavioral health needs of kids in our region,” said Congressman Bill Johnson (OH-6). “My staff and I worked hard to see these federal dollars routed to where they are most needed - the region with the greatest child mental health provider shortage in our state - and I applaud this investment by the U.S. Department of Education. I’m also grateful to the Appalachian Children Coalition and the Ohio Department of Education for their partnership in securing these crucial funds.”

The grant was highly competitive; only five were to be awarded nationwide to state departments of education. The Ohio Department of Education saw, at the onset of the Coronavirus, a need to respond to the mental health provider shortage for children in eastern Ohio, and partnered with federal elected officials and the Appalachian Children Coalition, a nonprofit formed in the wake of the pandemic to advocate for southeast Ohio’s children, to route the grant application toward eastern Ohio -- the region of greatest need.

Paolo de Maria, superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education said, “The Ohio Department of Education is excited to work with committed partners to help Appalachian Ohio strengthen behavioral and mental health services by increasing the number of available mental health professionals in the region. Our strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future, emphasizes attending to the needs of the whole child to ensure short- and long-term student success. Clearly, addressing student behavioral and mental health needs is a key component of the whole child framework,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria. “The grant award announced today means a huge boost for the plans and hopes that we all share for this region, and particularly for its students.”

“We thank the Ohio Department of Education and our region’s federal representatives, particularly Congressman Johnson, for their work in securing these dollars for southeast Ohio,” said Tom Davis, president of the Appalachian Children Coalition, and a longtime school counseling expert. “The need for greater state and federal investment in the mental and behavioral health needs of children in this region is acute, and this grant can pave the way for greater support from elected leaders to help the kids of eastern and southern Ohio overcome unique challenges they are faced with.”

Lori Lowe, superintendent of the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center, the local lead on the grant, said these resources are a much-needed infusion of dollars to launch a program to significantly increase the number of mental health providers in eastern Ohio schools.

“Local educational and mental health leaders in our region understand the mental health needs of our children, and the expertise we need to bring on board to help our kids,” Lowe said. “This grant will jumpstart programming we can leverage to start conversations around greater investments in solving the shortage of child mental and behavioral health specialists that has plagued Appalachian Ohio for decades. I’m grateful to all our partners in securing this highly competitive grant, especially our federal delegation and the Ohio Department of Education.”

The majority of counties served by the grant are in Congressman Johnson’s district. Congressmen Steve Stivers (OH-15), Troy Balderson (OH-12), and Bob Gibbs (OH-7) represent parts of the seven-county region.

"There is no time to spare when it comes to our children’s mental health,” said Congressman Stivers. “I’m deeply grateful to every partner involved in this mission to provide all kids in our region the resources and mental health support needed as they grow, and help keep them resilient moving forward. But, our work is not done. We must continue working together to ensure all kids are able to lead happy, fulfilling lives, and achieve their dreams.”

“As an Appalachian Ohio native, I know how critical it is for the children of this region to receive adequate support, guidance, and resources, so they are empowered to lead well-rounded lives,” Congressman Balderson added. “I’m passionate about this mission, which is why I’m so glad to announce this $2 million grant that will go far to support the mental and behavioral health of Appalachian Ohio youth.” 

Congressman Gibbs stated: “I am glad to see the Department of Education making the Appalachian region a priority. The students of Eastern and Southeastern Ohio need access to behavioral health services just as much as other regions of Ohio and the nation. This grant will help ensure these students have that access. I thank my colleagues for working together to advocate for Ohio families and schools.”

All four members jointly reaffirmed their commitment to advocate for resources to meet the unique needs of children across eastern and southeastern Ohio, and said they look forward to working with state leaders to ensure investment in the needs of Ohio’s kids in the next Ohio budget.