Betty Rosa, the state's education commissioner, said the funding is...

Betty Rosa, the state's education commissioner, said the funding is meant to supplement efforts already underway to combat pandemic-related issues. Credit: Hans Pennink

School districts on Long Island and across the state can begin applying for a portion of $108 million to expand mental health programs and address student learning issues that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.

A $100 million state matching fund, known as the Recover from COVID School Program, is geared toward expanding student access to school-based mental health professionals, intervention programs and services, prioritizing school districts with the highest need. There will be a focus on diversity and equity, Hochul said.

A portion of the funding, which was included in the state's budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, will go to school districts and BOCES applicants to hire more teachers with specialized experience in managing and counteracting learning loss caused by the pandemic. The RECOVS Learning Loss grant program would also allow applicants to establish academic programs, services and practices to help bring students up to grade level.

"We have to stop the hemorrhaging. Also to pinpoint where children have fallen behind, how to get them specialized assistance to get caught up," Hochul said at a news conference in Albany. "The average student is four to five months behind right now."

Funding will be awarded over two years — $50 million annually — with application submissions due by Aug. 18. Individual school districts or BOCES or a consortium of them can apply for the funding.

"These grants will supplement the efforts already underway in our schools to address the pandemic-related trauma and meet the needs of students still struggling with academic, attendance, and mental health issues," said Education Commissioner Betty Rosa. 

An additional $8.3 million, also included in Hochul's budget, will be available for grants to create school-based mental health clinics and satellite locations, officials said.

The state Office of Mental Health issued a request for applications to provide up to $25,000 in startup costs for providers to create clinics, and an additional $20,000 specifically for facilities in high-needs districts where more than 50% of the students are economically disadvantaged. Application submissions for those grants are due by Oct. 5.    

The clinics, Hochul said, were among the primary suggestions during a recent statewide mental health listening tour of middle and high school students.

 "Providing services directly in schools increases access, promotes coordinated care, and helps reduce stigma, all of which lead to better health outcomes for young people," said Dr. Ann Sullivan, commissioner of the state Office of Mental Health, adding that the office has already developed more than 1,000 mental health clinics in schools across the state. 

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