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Confronted with a shortage of school mental health counselors, the state Department of Education is seeking to bring 10,000 more professionals to campuses at a time when federal public health officials are calling for action to address the nation’s growing youth mental health crisis.

The counselor effort, which requires legislative approval, would aim to entice clinicians into schools through loan forgiveness and deferrals, scholarships to offset education costs and potentially reduce the time it takes for mental health clinicians to get licensed, Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday during a visit to Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles. Thurmond said he is in talks with legislators and hopes a measure, projected to cost $250 million, can be introduced in coming weeks.

“I can’t think of anything more important right now in terms of dealing with the trauma that students and families have experienced,” Thurmond said. “But the reality is that there is a shortage, there just aren’t enough counselors at many schools and many communities, urban, suburban, rural.”

For years, educators have warned of a shortage of mental health professionals. A 2018 report by researchers at the Healthforce Center at UCSF found that if current trends continued, by 2028, the state will have 41% fewer psychiatrists than needed and 11% fewer psychologists, licensed professional clinical counselors and licensed clinical social workers than needed to meet the state’s healthcare needs.

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