On behalf of the MSSWA Board of Directors and our members, it is my honor and privilege to once again present our MSSWA Legislator of the Year Award. This year we are honoring 2 influential advocates Senator Nick Frentz who serves Senate District 19, which includes portions of Blue Earth, Le Sueur, and Nicollet counties in the south-central part of the state and Representative Cheryl Youakim who serves House District 46B which includes the cities of Hopkins and St. Louis Park. Senator Frentz and Representative Youakim’s leadership in the Minnesota State Legislature has been instrumental in addressing various issues related to education funding that equitably supports all Minnesota students, access to affordable quality healthcare, access to affordable housing as well as being champions for increased school-based mental health services and resources for students such as school social work services.
Serving as Chief Authors of SF728/HF945, your persistence and advocacy to allow Federal Medicaid Reimbursement for School Social Work Services that are provided on an IEP or IFSP was pivotal during the 2021 Legislative Session. Senator Frentz and Rep Youkim’s ongoing efforts to ensure that Minnesota school districts have the funding and resources to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children is commendable. After engaging in conversations from MSSWA, MASE, PACER, and school district leaders in their communities regarding the lack of funding and the barriers facing districts in accessing vital Federal Medicaid dollars to provide critical mental health services for students with identified educational disabilities, they welcomed the opportunity to become Chief Authors of SF 728
and HF 945 a bill which proposed to modify third-party reimbursement for social work services for special education. This bill would have allowed school districts to maximize federal reimbursement, by seeking medical assistance (MA) reimbursement for health-related services that are provided as part of an Individual Education Plan (IEP/IFSP). Services – including speech-language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, mental and behavioral health services, school nurse services, vision and hearing screenings, diabetes and asthma management, and durable medical equipment – are reimbursable through Medicaid for eligible students. While school social work services are included under Minnesota statutes as health related services that can be billed to MA, our current practice in Minnesota does not allow for districts to bill for these services.
Due to their advocacy and support, SF728/HF945 successfully passed the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee, House Education Policy and Education Finance Committees and the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. Although it stalled in the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, Senator Frentz and Representative Youkim’s perseverance helped to move a revised version of the bill to the Education Omnibus Bill which did pass. As a result, MDE and DHS are in the process of developing recommendations which they must report back to the legislature that would allow the services we already provide on an IEP/IFSP to be reimbursed through federal MA $. MSSWA Board Members and Legislative Committee members were honored to have the opportunity to partner with Senator Frentz, Rep Youkaim, MASE and PACER to testify in support of these bills.
Senator Frentz and Representative Youakim recognize that school-employed mental health providers such as licensed school social workers serve in critical leadership roles related to school safety, positive school climate and providing critical school-based mental health services for all students including our most vulnerable students. Furthermore, they understand the vital role and mental health expertise of school social workers in not only providing direct services to students and families in the form of individual or group therapeutic support but how we also serve as a resource to administrators and other educators by providing consultation and training on identifying students with mental health needs and a referral process when additional services are sought.
Senator Frentz and Representative Youakim’s commitment to establishing crucial funding streams for districts to ensure access to necessary mental health services, their efforts to reduce barriers to educational success and for their dedication to
ensuring all students have the resources to be prepared and successful beyond graduation are just a few of the reasons why MSSWA felt it was essential to acknowledge their leadership. In addition, their openness to continue to access school social workers expertise as a resource is very much appreciated by our members. We look forward to continuing to partner with you. Please join me in thanking Senator Frentz and Rep Youakim for being a true champions and supporters of school social work services and values.