Senator Portantino Introduces Bill to Expand School-based Behavioral Health Services

Wednesday, February 15 2023

For Immediate Release: February 15, 2023

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Senator Portantino Introduces Bill to Expand School-based Behavioral Health Services

Sacramento, California – Today Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank) introduced Senate Bill 551, a measure that would enhance student wellness and improve school outcomes by requiring  all counties to collaborate with Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to fund school-based behavioral health services.  The bill will bring needed accountability and priorities to Prop 63 funding. 

“When we have stronger partnerships and collaboration, our children benefit,” stated Senator Portantino. “SB 551 strengthens Prop 63 by improving intergovernmental partnerships to ensure that we prioritize our children.  As our youth continue to grapple with behavioral health challenges, we must focus on providing them with the tools they need to improve their mental health and wellbeing.”

Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) states that 20% of total funding must be allocated in each county for Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) and that 51% of PEI funds shall be used to provide services to children and youth (age 0 to 25 years old). According to the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC), counties that use MHSA to fund programs for young children and their families rarely focus on children younger than 8 years-old or address early trauma as a precursor to mental illness. Data indicates that MHSA plans allocate significantly less than 51% of PEI funds toward services for children and youth. 

“Today’s youth face an epidemic of mental stressors in their personal and academic lives,” said Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho. “As education and civic leaders, we must ensure that we pursue all possible measures to help our youth achieve their full potential and arm them with tools to manage their lifelong mental health. This bill strengthens intergovernmental collaboration to ensure that the investments Californians committed to addressing the mental health needs of youth will go toward those goals first and foremost.”

SB 551 would require all counties to collaborate with LEAs to allocate 20% of PEI funds towards school-based behavioral health services. The new requirement would go into effect when a county adopted its next 3-year plan. The measure would require that Mental Health Boards include that at least 20 percent of members fall into the age category of child or transition-age youth, and 20 percent of members are public school employees. SB 551 would also clarify that no more than 50% of the members on a Mental Health Board may have a personal financial interest in programs funded in a proposed or adopted MHSA plan.

"Students are struggling with mental health now more than ever," said Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mary Ann Dewan. "This legislation takes what the research tells us - that children are 21 times more likely to receive health and mental health services when they are provided where students are - on a school campus. This strategic solution will help address the overwhelming anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that students are experiencing."