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Legislature, State Agencies Try To ‘Ensure Viability’ Of School Mental Health Program

Montana officials this week said they’ve found a solution to fund a school mental health program that has been on shaky ground for more than a year. It is still unclear how many schools will be able to keep the program going.

The state Legislature and state agencies have been trying to address the funding issue to keep the mental health program for kids afloat after a federal agency said schools weren’t meeting federal payment standards.

Schools are responsible for covering about a third of the cost to use the Comprehensive School and Community Treatment program, which is funded by Medicaid. The service connects students with severe emotional disturbances to mental health care providers.

On Wednesday, the state health department and the Montana Office of Public Instruction announced they’ve created a plan to “ensure the viability” of the program.

Schools have received new guidance on how to fund the service for students, but it’s still subject to federal review. The program has been transferred from the health department to the education department for oversight.

Jay Phillips with OPI told lawmakers that it’s hard to say how many schools will be able to front their share for the program under the new model.

“You know, each school district locally is going to have their own challenges,” he says. 

The Legislature allocated roughly $2 million last spring as bridge funding for the program. More than $400,000 of that has been spent. Phillips says he hopes the state will have a better sense of which school districts are able to pay for the mental health service by the end of October.

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