Lt. Gov. Coleman announces nearly $17M in federal funding for student mental health

Coleman visited Bowling Green and announced federal funding that will go towards increasing access to school-based mental health services in the region.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 8:18 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman joined students and local educational leaders to announce nearly $17 million in federal funding that will increase access to school-based mental health services in the region.

“I’m just really proud to say that Governor Beshear and I have always been and will always be an education-first administration,” said Coleman. “We recognize that our future economy, our future leaders, the future of the Commonwealth is in our classrooms today.”

The U.S. Department of Education selected two educational cooperatives that applied for funding. The West Kentucky Educational Cooperative (WKEC) will receive $2.9 million over five years and the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) will receive $13.9 million over five years.

“This is going to make sure that students in schools outside of the largest areas of a region have the same opportunity as the kids in the more populated areas,” said Coleman.

WKEC will use the funding to create Partner and Connect: MSU/WKEC Mental Health Providers Academy. Through the program, WKEC will partner with Murray State University to train and credential 30 mental health providers and place them in 14 school districts in the region.

“WKEC is thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity to train mental health counselors through our recently received grant,” said Gretchen Wetzel, executive director of WKEC. “We will be able to provide opportunities to 14 school districts to increase their mental health counseling services, and that is just what districts in our region need right now.”

“As school districts navigate the educational landscape in a post-pandemic environment, this innovative concept and partnership between the WKEC, Murray State University, and local school districts will strengthen our ability to educate students in the region,” said Dr. David Meinschein, superintendent of Livingston County Schools.

“COVID really exacerbated trends that we knew if you were in the classroom, and you were working with students,” said Coleman. “You could see these things coming and COVID really pulled the curtains back on issues like mental health.”

GRREC will use the funds to initiate Project ACCESS, which stands for “Acquiring Clinical Counselors for Equitable Student Services in Mental Health.” In partnership with Western Kentucky University, GRREC will recruit, train and hire 45 licensed mental health counselors who will serve students in all 184 schools in the GRREC region.

“The Project ACCESS grant empowers us to create a significant, positive influence on students’ overall well-being,” said Bart Flener, executive director of GRREC. “By fostering collaborations with the community and implementing innovative approaches, we are defining a new benchmark for exceptional mental health support in educational environments.”

ACCESS Director Todd Hazel said the grant will create an impact on students’ lives and foster growth and success.

“Receiving the Project ACCESS grant is a significant milestone in our mental health journey,” said Hazel, Project ACCESS Director. “With this grant, we are empowered to create a transformative impact on students’ well-being, paving the way for a healthier and more resilient future for our youth. Through strategic community partnerships and innovative approaches, we are setting the standard for exemplary mental health support in educational settings. Together, we will build a brighter tomorrow for our students, fostering their growth and success.”

Dr. Corrinne Murphy, dean at the WKU College of Education & Behavioral Sciences said the school is proud to join GRREC in Project ACCESS.

“We live in a society ever-increasing in complexity,” said Dr. Murphy. “The resulting increase in mental and behavioral health needs is apparent in our communities and our schools. WKU is proud to join GRREC in assisting school districts to access highly skilled mental health professionals eager to assist schools with establishing healthy school-wide environments in which students can grow and learn.”

For the past two years, Coleman has worked with students from the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council to address the student mental health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, they hosted 10 summits across the commonwealth, hearing from students on resources and support they needed. The students collected data and developed policy recommendations that were presented to the Kentucky legislature.

“As we continue to talk about supporting the whole child, academics are obviously important, but they are not the only thing. So supporting the whole child is something that we’ll continue to make sure that we focus on,” Coleman said.