In her State of the State address on Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul made expanding school based mental health access a priority.

It’s not the first time Hochul has pushed for expanded mental health clinics in schools, but the expansiveness of her 2024 proposal is going over well with advocates as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with experts driving home that making it physically easier for students and families to receive this care is crucial to combatting the mental health crisis they say is being experienced in New York’s schools.

“This is going to help so many people who would normally struggle to access mental health services,” said Michael Shapiro, legislative director for National Alliance on Mental Illness.

He said the organization has been pushing New York state to expand school-based mental health clinics. The governor wants to take it a step further, pledging to make such a clinic available to any school that wants one.

“Having these school based clinics that benefit both students and their families in an environment that is much more comfortable than having to go to a traditional mental health clinic is tremendously beneficial,” Shapiro said.

State Assemblymember Aileen Gunther leads the Mental Health Committee. She said in addition to comfort, providing access to mental health services that don’t require students to travel could be the difference between getting treatment and continuing to struggle.

“To treat people where they are and to have access like that in a school system, especially in rural areas like mine, when sometimes parents don’t have cars — it’s just amazing,” she said.

In terms of practicality, Bob Lowry, deputy director for Advocacy, Research, and Communications for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said schools he has spoken to are ready and eager to implement the services.

“We hear over and over again that improving school mental health services is a priority,” he said. We’ve done surveys since 2011, every year since 2017 improving mental health services has been the number one priority.”

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said that solving the issue is something Senate Republicans are onboard with.

“Our conference has long supported mental health funding, and certainly mental health resources being put in schools,” he said. “I’m hoping that materializes as part of the budget, and I’m looking for that in the budget address next week.”

That said, he added he has concerns that New York state law will disincentivize professionals from participating.

“If they are in a school district, they can’t see any of those students outside of their practice,” he said.

Shapiro said another concern is ensuring that expanding access to all types of insurance remains part of the proposal.

“We want to make sure these services are available to everyone and not just those with medicaid,” he said.

Like Ortt, Republican Patricia Canzoneri Fitzpatrick, who is the ranking member on the Senate Mental Health Committee, told Spectrum News 1 that while the governor’s speech “fell short” of fully addressing the issues the state is facing, her focus on mental health in schools is something she has pushed for, and she is pleased to see that the governor is pursuing this session.

“Young people are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. As the Ranking Member of the Mental Health Committee and mother of four children, I know that support is needed as we all adjust to a post-COVID world which has made many children feel isolated and vulnerable,” she told Spectrum News 1 in a statement. “I proposed an amendment to last year’s budget to put mental health coordinators in every school, so I am happy that the Governor understands the dire need for this initiative and is contemplating funding this in her upcoming budget. Our children are suffering and we must address the issue with action.”

The governor also proposed expanding peer-to-peer support programs, expand ACT crisis support and expand access to day treatment programs.