Sage Thrive Today Blog Student Mental Health PODCAST EPISODE 6: Strategies for Funding Student Mental Health Programs

PODCAST EPISODE 6: Strategies for Funding Student Mental Health Programs

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Pat Hovey, a leader and innovator among NJ Directors of Special Services. Pat has worked to implement and fund successful programs for students with mental health problems in several New Jersey school districts, as well as serving as an advisor to numerous other districts. Chris and Pat discuss the process of obtaining funding for student mental health support, as well as funding sources.

Highlights include:

  • Your first point of contact when looking to fund student mental health programs
  • The easiest funding sources that Directors of Special Services already have access to
  • Frequently overlooked funding sources you can use for mental health programs
  • Strategies for getting buy in from districts leaders to pursue these funding sources

Episode Transcription

Chris Leonard: Welcome to our podcast:  Conversations About Student Mental Health.

I’m Chris Leonard, Clinical Social Worker working with adolescents for over 25 years. In this podcast, I talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.

One of the major issues affecting schools today is the dramatic increase in students with significant mental health needs. In 2016, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimated that 16.5% of US youth ages six to 17 experience a mental health disorder. Those of us who work in schools have seen how deeply the current mental health crisis is affecting school-age children and youth. 

One of the big challenges for Directors of Special Services is finding the funding to support the development of effective programming for students with mental health disorders. We are fortunate to have as our guest today, Pat Hovey, who has 15 years of experience as the Director of Special Services in New Jersey. Welcome, Pat.

Pat Hovey: Hello. How are you?

Chris Leonard: Oh, doing so well. Happy new year.

Pat Hovey: Happy new year to you too.

Chris Leonard: Thanks. So let’s jump right in. Let’s say a Director is looking for new sources of funding to drive a new mental health program for students. Where would they begin?

Pat Hovey: When I’m mentoring other Directors (and I’ve done that for a few years), I always say, go to your Business Administrator. What you want to get from the Business Administrator is, what are the funding sources that they’re using now? So typically what the Director of Special Services will be looking at would be IDEA funding and Extraordinary Aid. But the reason you want to go to your BA is to see if there’s anything else that they’re using. So, that would be maybe Title grants that could come into play. How are they using SEMI and those types of grants?

Chris Leonard: Okay. So you’ve clarified with your BA what the funding sources currently being used are. What do you do next?

Pat Hovey: Now you want to find out who’s managing those funding sources. Because the person coordinating funds is not always the Director of Special Services. It could be any number of people in the district. So it could be your Superintendent, it could be the Assistant Superintendent, Director of Guidance, the Assistant Business Administrator. In various districts it could be Principals, depending upon what programs they have in their buildings.

Chris Leonard: Okay. So you have to talk with different people. And I imagine one of the things you might need to do when you’re talking to these stakeholders is to generate buy in for using some of that funding for mental health services.

Pat Hovey: Correct.

Chris Leonard: So how would you demonstrate that? I mean, is there kind of a needs assessment you do? Or how do you make that happen?

Pat Hovey: Typically if a district is already using Title grants, there’s a needs assessment that’s required to qualify for those grants.

Chris Leonard: Oh, okay.

Pat Hovey: So there might already be a needs assessment done. If not… IDEA is a grant that flows through the state from the feds to provide some relief, some assistance to each district providing special education services. Because it does cost more for a student who has special services than a typical kid in a gen ed setting. So, the federal government sends funding through the state. Some of those are IDEA, Extraordinary Aid, and the SEMI program, the Special Education Medicare Initiative. So those are things that you want to take a look at. But typically what happens is we look at educational as only the academic side, when in fact we really should be looking at a comprehensive program. That should include the mental health of our students also. Because mental health can significantly impact student achievement.

Chris Leonard: Yes.

Pat Hovey: So that’s the conversation you should really be having with those stakeholders, with the principals, with the administrators.

Chris Leonard: So, you want to have a comprehensive approach. You want to make sure you’re providing not only academic support, that there’s a mental health component in there. But what if it’s not? What if you go through that needs assessment and you don’t see the mental health piece in there?

Pat Hovey: In the past, I’ve gone back to the needs assessment and added that in. You document the ways that you’ve found out that mental health support is necessary. So, that would be those conversations. You survey students, staff, parents, administration. You take a look at the grades. You look at the student information system and you look at grades, attendance, discipline. And how is the data correlated to the possibility of mental health issues at work here?

Chris Leonard: Okay. That makes a great deal of sense. I had discussed home instruction with somebody not long ago. And it’s kind of a similar thing; when you’re trying to figure out what students need, you look at disciplinary records, you look at grades, you look at referrals to the nurse’s office and guidance and so forth. And you look at all of these different areas of the school. And from that, you can often ascertain the level of need and what some of the presenting problems are.

Pat Hovey: Correct. Correct. And those people may have a glimpse into the family life also. That may be another contributing factor that should really be included.

Chris Leonard: Right. Oh, excellent point. So you’ve done your needs assessment. What kinds of funding sources are directors utilizing now? I think you alluded to some of them, but I just want to make sure people really understand that.

Pat Hovey: So for Directors of Special Services it’s IDEA. That’s usually our first go-to. It’s IDEA part B and Extraordinary Aid and then SEMI. But the ones that I think get overlooked are those Title grants that are available. When you’re talking about mental health and the overall condition of a student towards achievement, there’s Title I, Title IV, and Title V that really should be explored also.

Chris Leonard: Can you tell us a little bit more about Title I, Title IV, and Title V?

Pat Hovey: Right. I think so many districts have heard of Title I, it gets bounced around a lot. I actually heard it today in a different conversation. And it’s usually utilized for those buildings or districts who are experiencing the ramifications of low income and it’s putting those students at risk educationally. And again, with Title I, what they typically do is look at the academics. So there’s a reading program put in place, or there’s a math program put in place. But in fact, the trauma of that instability of income can be significant in so many aspects of a student’s life. And their academic achievement being primary, because that’s their primary job.

Pat Hovey: If they don’t know what they’re going home to, or if they’re going to a home, or is there going to be food on the table? All of those things create trauma in a child, in a student. So Title I certainly lends toward the use of it for mental health and counseling for those students. So that’s one aspect.

Chris Leonard: Okay.

Pat Hovey: Title IV is focused on the well-rounded aspect of a school program. And if you’re talking about well-rounded, that includes physical, mental, emotional health and stability. So Title IV then is appropriate for supporting the student being able to feel healthy and supported and safe within a school system. Again, that has an impact on academic achievement. Because we do look at grades. That’s how we measure. Everybody’s got ranks and those types of things.

Chris Leonard: Sure.

Pat Hovey: So Title IV also supports that. When we’re addressing student need, then we’re taking care of those things that’ll happen if these needs are not addressed. Unaddressed mental health issues lead towards extraordinary behaviors. It could be drug use, it could be physical abuse, any one of those measures.

Pat Hovey: Title V is for innovative programs and educational improvement. And one of the areas within this grant provides for health services and community involvement. And programs such as Sage Thrive really address both of those components because the program brings the parent, and brings the community in. The program addresses the need of the community right in the district. It’s not your child going somewhere else in another town. It’s right there in their home district, understanding what’s happening all around them. And still, these types of in-district programs, like Sage Thrive, are innovative. This is not something that’s common within public school districts. Even the idea of addressing the mental health of our youth is not common.

Chris Leonard: Well, yes. In our nation it’s really been thought of as a private issue.

Pat Hovey: Correct.

Chris Leonard: Some people don’t want to air their dirty laundry, they don’t want this addressed in schools. And then increasingly there are families who absolutely want this kind of support. But some schools are saying, “Hey, our job is to educate.” Right?

Pat Hovey: Right, right.

Chris Leonard: “We’re not getting involved in that.”

Pat Hovey: Right. But it’s important to understand the foundational issue of mental health and the impact that it eventually has. I had someone say to me today, “I know somebody in my buildings will be able to cure cancer. But if I don’t deal with their mental health right now, they’re never going to get the opportunity to explore that.”

Chris Leonard: No, it makes perfect sense. And the other thing that we know is that issues are interrelated.

Pat Hovey: Correct.

Chris Leonard: So to think of it as possibly an economic issue, possibly an issue of the well-roundedness of the student, possibly: “Wow, we really need to think outside of the box here and we need to develop something, we need to innovate.” And that’s where the Title IV would come in. That’s a very helpful way to look at it.

Pat Hovey: Absolutely.

Chris Leonard: So what has been your personal experience in working with these funding sources? When you’ve developed these programs, how specifically have these resources helped you?

Pat Hovey: So the first thing, and maybe a little facetious, but I used to say, “Talk fast and get it passed. But know your audience.” So if I’m talking to a Board of Education and the Superintendent, they want to know how much is this going to cost?

Chris Leonard: It’s the first question, right?

Pat Hovey: Absolutely.

Chris Leonard: Yeah.

Pat Hovey: Absolutely. And whatever I do in special education will significantly impact general education. So I can’t just think of my students in special education. I have to think of the overall impact to the general population. So I have to be creative. I want to be able to show, “All right, if you spend this much money over here, this is how much it may save you in the long run.” So you have to always be looking at, we’re almost robbing Peter to pay Paul kind of thing. So being able to pull from IDEA… what typically we do for IDEA is put it into out of district tuition. It’s the cleanest way to use that funding.

Pat Hovey: However, if you put in a program like Sage Thrive, then you may not have to send out, as I say, “a student and a half.” Because that’s how much it would cost to bring in this program. So then in my added district tuition, I can pull that money and put it into a different column. So now it’s not impacting the general fund as much. It doesn’t feel as bad. It might be left pocket, right pocket, but it doesn’t feel as bad in the general fund. Because I’ve used something specified for students with special needs. So the gen ed kids don’t feel it as much because now I’ve used that funding that came from an outside source.

Pat Hovey: And then when I’ve used up all those sources, then I start going to the Title Funds. Because those are coming through, and it’s not unusual that those funds aren’t used to the extent that they could be. So you definitely want to leverage that money that’s sitting out there. To me, if there’s money sitting out there, I’m using it all. It’s a credit card that I want to put to the max. So those Title Funds really can help then, make it more palatable to the population who may not feel this as much. Because you have to remember, we’re talking about a smaller percentage of the population.

Chris Leonard: Not quite a fifth of the population. Which is significant.

Pat Hovey: It’s still significant.

Chris Leonard: But it’s still most people, this is not their issue.

Pat Hovey: Right.

Chris Leonard: Right.

Pat Hovey: And if you think about it, if 5% of that population is having a hard time, it’s taking 90% of your time. And in special education, you have to pay my bills. So I have to be creative so that I don’t take it away from the bigger population. Because you still want to be able to fund gifted and talented. You have capital projects that you have to fund. So if I can find better use of that money that’s already being flowed through the feds, then use it. I’m not going to let it sit there. I don’t want to let it sit there. I want to be creative. And in fact, if I’m doing right by the students, I’m going to do right by the rest of the district.

Chris Leonard: So I could imagine that someone listening to us today might say, “Wow, this is great stuff. I’ve thought about starting a program and now I have some new ideas about how I might go about it.” What advice would you give them in terms of getting started?

Pat Hovey: Take a look around, talk to your administrators on site. You can certainly give me a call. I love to teach other new directors, so I’m glad to have that conversation with anybody that would want to.

Chris Leonard: Oh, that’s fantastic. So how would somebody reach you for that kind of consultation?

Pat Hovey: My email is, or you can give me a call at (862) 701-5110.

Chris Leonard: Fantastic. Well Pat, I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. This has been tremendously informative. I think that you opened people’s eyes to some new possibilities of funding sources. Because you really can’t do anything without the funding. And people often worry that, “Hey, you’re taking away something from somebody else.” So where you can provide that funding and say, “Hey, here’s how we’re going to pay for it,” that is so important in terms of getting something passed and getting that program in place.

Pat Hovey: Absolutely, yeah.

Chris Leonard: So, thank you again. That’s all we have time for today. Please join us soon for another conversation about student mental health.

Chris Leonard: For more information on funding sources, we’ve created a guide for directors on funding sources for student mental health programs. You can access this guide at

Conversations About Student Mental Health is brought to you by Sage Thrive, partners in school-based mental wellness. 

You can find the show notes on our website at  You can also suggest topics for upcoming episodes of the podcast; we’d love to know what issues related to student mental health you want to hear more about.


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