New Funding Source for Mental Health Navigation Services

By: Jerry Nicholson, Unified School District of DePere, Jennifer Garceau, Howard Suamico School District and  Tammy Nicholson, Ashwaubenon School District

Fund 80 is a fund that school districts use for activities that support the entire School District Community.  This fund is levied separately from the District’s general operations (Fund 10).  Activities supported by this levy can include adult education, community recreation programs, elderly food service programs, day care services, and other programs which are not elementary and secondary education programs but have the primary function of service to the community.  In many districts, fund 80 expenditures are determined by the Superintendent and/or the School Board.  

In the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023 several districts in the Brown County region were exploring mental health navigation services through a vendor, Care Solace.  Care Solace services are available during weekends, long breaks, over the summer, any time day or night, every day of the year.  Each person is connected to Care Solace Care Partner that assists them to find a match and secure services from a mental health provider.  Everything is done through Care Solace’ confidential portal.  The company will help families coordinate with mental health providers and treatment options matched to their needs, regardless of their circumstances or insurance.

Some districts contracted with the service provider utilizing mental health grant funding during the 2022-23 school year.  The services were made available to students, employees, and  their families.   There was still concern about the future of the mental health grants and the long-term stability of using grant funding. 

In the spring of 2023, the Howard Suamico School District, Ashwaubenon School District and De Pere School District Directors of Student Services collaborated on an effort to examine the use of Fund 80 and the potential for opening this service across their communities. As a collaborative team, the directors communicated with Care Solace representatives about the potential of allowing any community member to use the service.  Upon receiving approval from Care Solace for potential widespread community use, the team reached out to both the Student Services and Finance divisions at the Department of Public Instruction.  Susan Piazza, was consulted with prior to a meeting that was held with the DPI School Finance Leadership.  Roger Kordus and Robert Soldner participated from the DPI School Finance staff.  Mental health navigation services were approved as a fund 80 expenditure if the following conditions were met:

  1. The service needs to be made available to all community members, including local private schools and home schooled students.  

  2. The district will publicize and provide links to make this service available online and through district social media accounts.  

  3. The service is available through phone, web, tablet, mobile, video chat, email, or text, thus making it easily accessible for all.

In a district of about 4,000 students, the estimated cost of the mental health navigator subscription with this vendor (any vendor meeting these requirements would be eligible) is approximately ¼ of the cost of a full time mental health navigator position, yet is available for all within the community throughout the entire year 24 hour a day.  This opens up the ability for local decision makers to address the challenges of navigating the mental health system for their constituents.  Allowing local leaders to consistently fund, evaluate, and examine the needs and impact at the local level.  Many of our districts are in the initial stages of using or evaluating the impact of this service, but given the mental health funding changes we feel the need to ensure that all districts are aware of this option and funding mechanism.