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Arizona Dept. of Ed uses federal relief money to fund counselor, social worker positions at public schools

The Arizona Department of Education is using some of its federal relief money to help get more students access the mental health help they need.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Education is using some federal relief money to fund school counselor and social worker positions in school districts across the state.

The goal is to help get more students access the mental health help they need coming out of the pandemic.

Money will fund 140 new positions on Arizona campuses

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced Monday the state is allocating $21.3 million to help fund mental health professionals in public schools.

That money is coming from the Arizona Department of Education’s COVID federal relief money.

The funding will help expand the ADE’s School Safety Grant Program, which has helped put counselors, social workers and school resource officers onto school campuses.

The $21.3 million will fund 140 new positions on campuses across the state.

71 of those positions will be for school counselors, the other 69 will be for school social workers.

“Time and time again I hear from our students, that they need, not just want, but need, more school counselors and mental health professionals on school campuses to support their needs,” Hoffman said.

The money will support the positions for the next two years and then Hoffman said they’ll ask the Arizona State Legislature to fully fund the positions after that.

Students say they need extra mental health help

High school senior Claire Novak says being a student in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on her and her peers.

“I definitely think some of my classmates lost a sense of purpose over the course of remote learning,” Novak said.

Novak, who goes to Arizona School for the Arts, said her peers and those she works with in the middle school setting are grateful to be back to in-person classes.

Students have had worries like food insecurity, how the pandemic has affected students’ families and the safety of their families and peers.

Novak said those worries still continue today.

“I am also worried about the lasting effects of this pandemic on our students,” Novak said.

Novak added she believes the extra positions will help her peers.

“Our teachers and fellow students have offered so much support to students, but they need extra support of professionals like counselors and social workers,” Novak said.

Positions to start next school year

Hoffman said the goal is to have the positions filled by the 2021-2022 school year.

Kyrene Elementary School District is one district that will get a couple of the 140 positions that are spread across Arizona districts.

“There are going to be issues children are going to be coming back to school with that we haven’t even ever dealt with,” Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes said.

Toenjes said the pandemic has not only impacted students but the district’s funding too.

“We are at risk of possibly having to scale back, so this allows us to keep at the level we have and possibly add some additional counselors and social workers,” Toenjes said.

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