Kansas lawmakers approve school mental health pilot program, select KCK district

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kansas lawmakers are signing off on a new pilot program that would expand mental health services for students.  The measure, tied into the school funding bill, comes with $10 million of funding and big goals.

Kansas City, Kan. USD 500 is one of just six districts in the state hand-picked to take part in the pilot program.

The images of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting are hard to wipe from memory.  And since then, there's been a heated debate over gun control and improving mental health care for students nationwide.

"It’s not just the school violence. It’s not just the growing recognition we need to treat mental illness, especially in students, but both," said Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Kansas Association of Mental Health Centers.

Kansas is now set to launch a pilot program to tackle those needs. Six districts, sampling different regions and populations around the state, will participate. It will target high-need kids for enhanced mental health services.

"We felt like by treating the child we could make their academic success grow, make the teacher’s life a little easier and improve quality of life in the family," Kessler said.

The first group of focus will be kids in the foster care system who often bounce around between different schools. The second will be students who need more intense care after school hours, on weekends and in the summer.

"We believe it improves the education system, and we believe it improves community mental health systems as well as child welfare and the overall health of the community and state," Kessler said.

The state legislature's approved $10 million that will help create "behavioral health improvement teams," made up of a clinician and case manger from community mental health centers in Kansas and a school behavioral health liaison employed by the district.

The goals include improving student health overall, lowering suicide risk and even boosting student achievement.

"The recognition now is that mental health is not just about your behaviors, but brain health, and community health, and health of the family.  So this is something that really helps every community around the state and helps us be the best version of ourselves," Kessler said.

The hope is that this can be a three-year pilot program that will start with six districts, then grow regionally in year two and statwide by year three.

The measure is awaiting Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer's signature and, if approved, could be rolled out by next school year.