Schools leaving money on the table
September 21, 2020
California schools could be much more effectively leveraging Medi-Cal to support the social and emotional needs of children and youth, as outlined in a new practical guide on increasing mental health funding for schools. Less than half of California’s school districts are billing Medi-Cal for the student mental health services they provide, according to the “Practical Guide for Financing Social, Emotional and Mental Health in Schools,” which was developed by California Children’s Trust and its partner, Breaking Barriers. The guide helps education leaders and the state of California access millions of dollars from the Medi-Cal Billing Option Program, funding students are entitled to in order to support their social and emotional needs, which has become even more essential during COVID-19.  “Never before has it been more important to build a robust and coordinated system of social emotional and mental health supports for students,” said Alex Briscoe, Principal, California Children’s Trust. “COVID-19 has accelerated and exacerbated equity gaps and widely exposed the need for youth mental health supports — and the limited structures school districts and its partners have in place to support and fund the services.” The organizations are calling on health systems and school leaders in California to work together to leverage these largely untapped federal funds. California is among the worst in the nation for school-based claims for Medi-Cal, at $29 per child, while Montana generates over $500 per child.  
New guide shows how to leverage federal funds for student mental health needs
According to the guide, district participation is low due to California’s Medi-Cal program being “administratively burdensome,” recent changes as a result of a Special Plan Amendment will allow more opportunities for schools to bill Medi-Cal for services, including those for general education students.

The timing couldn’t be more important. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a youth mental health crisis: Youth ages 5-19 have experienced a 52 percent increase in mental health hospitalizations, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. The current global pandemic has created further anxiety and stress, as well and exacerbating and deepening equity divides. “We cannot underestimate the effect that this extraordinary time is having on our students. Our schools must teach and help children heal, now more than ever,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “This is an essential roadmap for school districts to capture Medi-Cal funds to finance more mental health services for our students.” The guide presents a “crash course” in Med-Cal, which currently provides free or low-cost medical services to six out of 10 California children. The guide then presents five ways in which school districts can partner with state or county-level agencies to access Medi-Cal and expand billable mental health services for their students. Lastly, district leaders are given steps they can take to use these funds in creating an integrated, coordinated, and sustainable system of social, emotional, and mental health support for students. “After decades working with California families, school districts, educational leaders, and child serving agencies, we all agree much more can and must be done together to support the social and emotional needs of all of our students, especially now,” said Elizabeth Estes, JD, Founder of Breaking Barriers. “This guide is the culmination of a team of interdisciplinary experts to provide the ‘how to’ the field has been seeking.”
Read the full guide online.
A new guide describes five ways in which LEAs can get access to Medi-Cal funding to pay for social, emotional and mental health services in schools, as illustrated above.
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