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Whitmer is pushing for schools to get back to in-person learning. But once back in the classroom, she wants more mental health services on campus.


Need to Know

  • Whitmer wants schools in-person, with more mental health services.
  • Last year, the state hired 560 nurses, counselors, and social workers in schools.
  • Michigan has an educational loan reimbursement program to draw more people into the field.

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich.—Michigan students will have more access to mental health services at school, if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gets her wish. In last week’s State of the State address, Whitmer directly urged all schools to go back to in-person, stealing headlines, but she coupled that with an entreaty for more school psychologists and personnel trained in health.

That proposal is not a new area of focus for Whitmer, but it is one that experts believe is urgent in the context of a still-ongoing pandemic and fears of school violence.

“As a psychologist, I wholeheartedly support having more mental health professionals inside schools who are trained to work with adolescents,” Dr. Sarah Domoff, a clinical psychologist with expertise in child trauma on faculty at Central Michigan University, said in an interview with The ‘Gander Newsroom following the Oxford school shooting.

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Last year, parents said remote learning made education and mental health more difficult for children. The state, in response, added 560 nurses, counselors, and social workers to the ranks of Michigan schools.

Despite an augmented workforce, Whitmer wants more. 

“Remote learning is not as fulfilling or conducive to a child’s growth,” Whitmer said. “In-person learning is critical to social development and mental health.”

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One way Whitmer plans to actually do that is by building on the state’s Michigan State Loan Repayment Program. The program works by reimbursing primary healthcare providers—including mental health professionals—for up to eight years of educational debt if they commit to work at a nonprofit site. The money back is tax-free.

State allowances of these funds are controlled by the Michigan state legislature, which is currently run by Republicans in both houses.

Last year, however, Whitmer managed to negotiate the largest school budget in the state’s history without raising taxes, securing funding that brought mental health professionals for school.

Budgets will determine whether this year sees the same.

“We will make a historic investment to retain and recruit hundreds more mental health workers,” Whitmer said.  

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