2021 NASP Advocacy Academy and Virtual Capitol Hill Day Review – by Scott McGuire

The WSPA invited the upcoming WSPA President and President Elect to attend the NASP Advocacy Academy and Virtual Capitol Hill Day visit during July 21st-22nd.   The Advocacy Academy’s main purpose was to encourage congress to support their efforts to increase the number of school psychologist across the country.  Through video presentations, large group zoom discussions, and regional breakout sessions the participants were informed in 3 areas of understanding their advocacy mission to address the school psychologist shortage.

The first phase discussed the basic steps of advocating.  Advocacy starts with doing your job well and telling others about your work. Whenever there is an opportunity, provide high quality information with no strings attached and work hard to have and share the information. Tell others what school psychologists do and what other tasks they can do if given the appropriate time, resources, and flexibility.

When advocating for your interests, know what you are asking for, make a statement that outlines the problem, what actions you want done, and what the benefit would be when the actions are done in an easy-to-understand way. When problem solving, pair the need with data and actions, use social math in your data to point out who the problem effects. For example, each year 4 students in every typical classroom will experience a mental health disorder and 3 out of the 4 students will go untreated.  Interpret the information for the audience, use visuals aids, charts, and pictures to help support your viewpoint and the need for action.

Build a relationship with anyone who can help you support your cause. Tell your story and be yourself.  Give the supporter ideas on how you can help them do their job. Build a relationship by being a resource for them as an education or mental health expert.  Use your experiences and personal stories along with social data to help convey your message.  Advocacy is about helping others not promoting yourself.

The second topic informed the group about the complexity of the school psychologist shortage issue and how it is related to advancing NASP’s five strategic goals through advocacy.  NASP believes school psychologists have an ethical obligation to promote system changes that help students and want school psychologists to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking to promote NASP strategic goals. NASPs strategic goals include leadership development, promoting the NASP practice model, social justice, providing mental and behavioral health services, along with addressing workforce shortages.  The NASP presenters stated that all of their strategic goals work together and cannot be addressed individually.  They feel strongly that there needs to be a diverse workforce.  Currently, 86% of the school psychologist in the USA are white and 92% are English only speaking.  NASP wants to focus on closing the equity, opportunity, and achievement gaps. They strive to service all aspects of student’s needs, not just education.

The school psychologist shortages have always existed, there has never been a time when there have been enough school psychologists to meet demand.  The issue is complex and cannot be fixed easily or quickly.  The shortage issue is two pronged, first there are not enough school psychologists available to be hired.  There is a lack of school psychology students, NASP approved graduate school programs, internship positions, and internship supervisors.  Second, there are not enough school psychologist positions to meet the needs of students.  There needs to be an increase in both supply and demand to meet NASP’s recommended 1:500 school psychologist to student ratio.

The third theme was to become familiar with the bills that NASP is supporting for the purpose of contacting your congressional representative’s offices and visiting with their staffers about supporting the school psychology shortage issue.

NASP expressed enthusiasm about the current political climate and opportunity to increase the existing number of school psychologists.  The presenters emphasized the Biden administration’s desire to increase the number of school psychologists, counselors, and social works to help tackle mental health issues in schools.   Legislative bills have been written to help make this objective happen. The two bills that the conference highlighted both had the phrase Mental Health in Schools in the titles.  HR 3572 Improve Access to Mental Health in Schools, partners with universities to help train, recruit, and retain mental health workers including school psychologists and collaborates with the US Dept. of Education to provide additional loan forgiveness.  HR 4198 Mental Health in Schools Act provides matching funds for the US Dept of Education and graduate school universities.  There are also grant funds available to local school districts to increase mental health services.  These two bills may total to as much as 1 billion dollars for Mental Health Services in schools.

As part of the Virtual Capitol Hill Day visit, I reached out to the Wyoming federal congressional delegation and arranged a virtual meeting with education and/or mental health staffers from all three of Wyoming’s congressional representatives.  I explained who I was and why I wanted to meet with them.  The virtual meeting turned out to be the highlight of the entire event.

The staffers were interested in what I had to say and supportive of both school psychologists and mental health services in school.   The main purpose of the meeting was to build a professional relationship with the legislators.  I personally offered to be a resource for them if they needed any information about educational or mental health issues in schools.  The congressional staffers were very appreciative about contacting them with my concerns and my offer to be an educational and mental health resource for them.  We plan on building a partnership to communicate legislative messages.  We also discussed future collaboration with the WSPA board, along with them monitoring the WSPA website blog posts to get additional sources of Wyoming school psychologist needs and insights.

The Advocacy Academy conference concluded with a regional virtual meeting to evaluate the advocate’s experience.  Based on comments made by other Advocacy Academy participants, many did not have as favorable a visit with their representatives as I did.  Wyoming is a special place to live and has many opportunities available to make a difference in the lives of the people who live here.

The conference materials highlighted a need for an increase in mental health services in schools and why school psychologist are good options to help provide the services but did not outline how the money would be used to support mental health services in schools.  I am not confident that the NASP agenda or NASP supported bills will become law, but I do feel that there are ways to address the needs of Wyoming students and Wyoming school psychologists in creative and productive ways.

We have an opportunity to sell our state to potential school psychologist who are looking for work by telling them about the many benefits of living in Wyoming.  Many states do not have paid interns, but in Wyoming some students get paid during their internship.  We may want to make a list of internship supervisors in the state and advocate to provide stipends for supervisors for an incentive to encourage more intern supervisors.  Additional mental health service provider trainings and possibly funding foreign language classes for school psychologists are other ways to enhance our capabilities.   There are lawmakers, teachers, administrators, and students who go above and beyond to support school psychologists and I would like to find ways to recognize them as well.