In-Focus: Budget Increases Funding for School-Based Mental Health Supports

by Beth A. Herman, MSE School Mental Health Training Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

The FY2017-2019 state budget was a watershed moment for school-based mental health. It was the first time that the state legislature appropriated funds, to the Department of Public Instruction, specifically for school-based mental health.  

This funding was provided in three categories: 

  1. A competitive grant for schools and community providers to collaborate on building a comprehensive system of mental health supports for students;
  2. A categorical aid program to reimburse districts for increased social work time; and 
  3. Training dollars to support statewide access to Youth Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Sensitive Schools and Screening, and Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). 

This unprecedented funding supported districts, schools, educators, and families in amazing ways. Below is an update about each program followed by the current budget appropriations. 

FY 2017-2019

School-based Mental Health Services Grant

FY17-FY19 appropriation: $3.25 million annually

The School-Based Mental Health Services Grant was initiated by Wis. Stat. sec. 115.367 with the 2017-19 Wisconsin State Budget. 

The initial launch of this program was highly competitive. 141 eligible entities applied, requesting $8,016,814. Fifty-two of these applicants were funded. 

Applications were submitted in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $75,000. Per statute, all were required to have a community mental health provider partner to collaborate on designing mental health supports for all students and increasing access to treatment services. 

The focus for grantees was in designing and implementing multi-level systems of mental health supports. 46% of grantees used the funding to hire a mental health navigator who assisted families, schools, and providers in getting students the services they needed. Districts implemented social and emotional learning programs, trauma-sensitive schools approaches, and developed clear and concise referral pathways to ensure students received what they needed when they needed it. For many districts, this grant supported the development of community collaboration around mental health and allowed them to either expand or initiate the provision of community mental health services in schools. 

Categorical Aid for Mental Health Program

FY17-FY19 appropriation: $3 million annually

Eighty-nine schools or districts increased expenditures for social workers in the 2017-18 school year (over 16-17 expenditures). Fifty-five schools or districts increase expenditures by over $10,000 and 37 districts increased expenditures by over $30,000.

Mental Health Training

FY17-FY19 appropriation: $420,000 annually

This appropriation provided funding to support training in three programs: Youth Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Sensitive Schools, and Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).

Youth Mental Health First Aid, an evidence-based mental health literacy training for adults, teaches adults working with adolescents how to recognize signs of emotional distress and mental health concerns and provides strategies for talking with youth and assisting them to get additional help if needed. In FY19, 121 free YMHFA trainings were provided to Wisconsin communities. 

Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Forty-one schools participated in a Trauma-Sensitive Schools cohort. Teams were provided with training, technical assistance, and support in creating trauma-sensitive school environments. 


SBIRT is an evidence-based, and comprehensive service to address selected behavioral health concerns among adolescents (e.g., alcohol/other drug involvement). Twenty-two school teams participated in the SBIRT training and coaching project. These 22 teams were trained in this evidence-based intervention and provided with coaching throughout the year.  

FY 2019-21

The Governor and State Legislature once again signaled their support of school-based mental health supports in the current FY 2019-21 budget. Appropriation for both the Mental Health Services Grant and the Categorical Aid for Mental Health Program received increases in funding. Mental Health Training dollars remained the same. 

School-based Mental Health Services Grant

FY19-21 appropriation: $6.5 Million annually (increase)

The grant competition for this budget cycle is complete. One hundred thirty-two districts or charter schools applied, and in all, 107 grant awards were made. This is double the number of grantees from the previous year. Awards ranged from $10,000-$75,000 with the amounts provided annually for two years. The next grant cycle will occur in late winter of 2021. Information about this grant program can be found here

Categorical Aid for Mental Health

FY 2019-21 appropriation: $6 million annually (increase)

  • Eligible parties: school boards, independent charter schools, and some private schools.
  • Reimbursementwill be in a two-tiered system.
    • Tier 1: will provide aid up to 50 percent of the increasein eligible expenditures to employ, hire, or retainsocial workers from one year to the next.
    • Tier 2:will provide aid for eligible expenditures not aided at Tier 1 (at the rate supported by the appropriation after Tier 1 payments are calculated).
  • March 2020 - Eligible entities must submit a claim form to the department
  • June 2020 - Payment to eligible entities for increases in expenditures in 2018-19 over 2017-18. 

Mental Health Training

Appropriation FY 19-21: $420,000 annually (no change) 


Schools and communities can find information about YMHFA and request training here. There are a limited number of free training opportunities available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Trauma-Sensitive Schools

School and district cohorts will receive training and coaching over the course of the school year to support a trauma sensitive school environment. All educators have access to free online training material. Information about what a trauma sensitive school looks like and links to training resources can be found here.


The application process for school teams to join the FY19 School SBIRT Implementation Project Cohort is open until September 20, 2019. School teams will be provided training and coaching to implement SBIRT in their schools. Teams who meet completion requirements are eligible for an $1800 stipend. More information about what this project entails and how to apply can be foundhere.

The Student Services Prevention and Wellness Team at the Department of Public Instruction is excited about the opportunities these funds provide for Wisconsin’s children and youth. While the appropriations are not nearly enough to meet all the needs of schools and districts, there are a number of free resources and supports available at the SSPW website at


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