The School and Mental Health Project

Increasing prevention and early intervention to promote student wellness and academic success.

MHSA Promotes Student Success

The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), through its Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) component, mandates that the State and counties work together to prevent school failure and dropout.

In support of those goals, the Commission embarked on its Schools and Mental Health Project, a multi-year effort to guide funding and policy decisions affecting the provision of mental health services to promote the academic and social success of young people.

In addition, the Commission has funded 18 school-county partnerships with $95 million in grants to better integrate mental health services into schools. The State’s Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget includes an additional $50 million to support partnerships in 12 more counties. The Commission will continue to seek funding to support partnerships in all counties.

“Schools as centers of wellness means we want to not allow young people to fail first. We want to surround them with support from all of the personnel in the school to make sure we’re on the lookout for indications that they may need further support in the form of counseling or work with their family, so they can turn around whatever issues they’re dealing with and become effective learners within the school setting.”
Dave Gordon

Superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, Commissioner, and Subcommittee Chair of the School Mental Health Project

Every Young Heart And Mind: Schools As Centers Of Wellness


The School Mental Health Project has produced recommendations for the Commission for actions supported by key partners and stakeholders. These include implementing a continuum of early interventions and supports for improving mental health access and outcomes and increasing academic success among children and youth who exhibit social, emotional, and behavioral problems in school.

Mental health needs are the most common and disabling medical conditions impacting children. Up to one out of every five children has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Among the 9.6 million children in California, roughly 1.8 million could need mental health services and supports.


Starting in 2013, the Commission began allocating grants for school-county partnerships made possible by SB 82, a bill aimed at expanding mental health triage services throughout the state.

The Commission in 2016 launched its Schools and Mental Health Project, a programmatic exploration of the mental health needs of California’s K-12 students. Dave Gordon, Commissioner and Superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, chaired the subcommittee leading that effort.

In November of 2020, the project published the Every Young Heart and Mind: Schools as Centers of Wellness report, which was the result of more than 20 community meetings. It recommended that the Governor take the lead in coordinating with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education, and the Health and Human Services Agency to unify support for county offices of education and local school districts in providing students with mental health services.

In addition, in Fiscal Year 2019-20, the State adopted the Mental Health Student Services Act, which made $50 million available for the Commission to distribute to support partnerships between schools and mental health agencies and providers. The Commission and the State have since expanded financial support for such programs.


In its Schools as Centers of Wellness report, the Commission highlighted three broad recommendations:

  • The State should establish a collaborative framework to enable its agencies, local governments, and local educational entities to develop a statewide strategy for making schools into centers of wellness and healing, with prevention and intervention efforts designed to reach children even as infants.
  • The State should protect against economic fluctuations by making multi-year investments that increase services while also building necessary infrastructures, like data management systems and strong workforces.
  • The State should provide technical assistance to help schools, health agencies, and other community partners to integrate systems better, adopt proven practices, and drive continuous improvement.

Expected Outcomes

School entities and health systems can effectively help children “to live, work, and thrive” by partnering to make schools into centers of wellness and healing and by robustly engaging with families in that pursuit.

Project Milestones

Next Steps

  1. Establish a School Mental Health Learning Collaborative

    The collaborative would focus on financing strategies to sustain school mental health programs and aligning and integrating planning and programming among local mental health, education, and First 5 agencies, which use taxes from tobacco products to fund services for children ages 0 to 5 and their families.

  2. Build Youth Leadership and Workforce Development

    Strategies include establishing statewide and county Youth Mental Health leadership bodies and advocating for youth involvement in developing California’s Peer Certification strategy.

  3. Improve Data and Management

    Establish data sharing agreements between the California Department of Education and the Department of Health Care Services, convene a working group to develop measures of student wellness, and create a dashboard of school mental health metrics to support planning and decision-making.

Every Young Heart and Mind: Schools as Centers of Wellness

Early Psychosis Intervention Plus report cover

Advisory Committee Members

Subcommittee Members:

  • David Gordon, Chair and Superintendent, Sacramento County Office of Education
  • Gladys Mitchell, former Staff Services Manager, California Department of Health Care Services and California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs
  • Mara Madrigal-Weiss, Executive Director of Student Wellness and School Culture, Student Services and Programs Division, San Diego County Office of Education
  • Ken Berrick, Chief Executive Officer, Seneca Family of Agencies


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