Washington Update

Department of Education to accept new round of ESSCP applications

Scott Barstow & Art Terrazas March 1, 2012

The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program

(ESSCP) is one of the most competitive discretionary grant programs operated by the U.S. Department of Education. The program provides grants to local education agencies (LEAs) for the development and support of school counseling services. There has been so much interest in ESSCP that, unlike with many other programs it operates, the Department of Education solicits new grant applications for ESSCP funds only every other year. In intervening years, the department typically awards grants to the top-rated applications it already has on hand. According to Department of Education staff, between 400 and 500 grant applications are received each time a notice is posted. In 2011, only 43 grants were given out, in amounts ranging from $150,000 to $400,000. Grants typically are for three years.

The high level of demand for ESSCP grants shows how important the program is, despite its inclusion on a long list of education programs characterized as “wasteful,” “unnecessary” or “inefficient” and slated for termination by proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. That legislation, H.R. 1891, is one of a handful of bills House Republicans have developed to streamline and reauthorize federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Given continued partisan disagreements, it appears increasingly unlikely that Congress will pass ESEA reauthorization legislation this year. Nationwide, the average student-to-counselor ratio across elementary and secondary schools remains inappropriately high, at 459:1, well above the 250:1 ratio recommended by both the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association.

The Department of Education will soon begin accepting a new round of ESSCP grant applications, using the $52 million appropriation for the program for Fiscal Year 2012. School counselors interested in applying for a grant can find information on the department’s website at www2.ed.gov/programs/elseccounseling/index.html. A copy of the most recent notice inviting applications, from January 2010, can be downloaded from www2.ed.gov/programs/elseccounseling/applicant.html.

ACA encourages school counselors interested in applying for funding to work with their LEA to submit an application. For more information, contact Scott Barstow with ACA at 800.347.6647 ext. 234 or sbarstow@counseling.org.

DoD seeking comments, considering changes prior to implementing TRICARE rule

The Department of Defense (DoD) regulation regarding independent practice authority for licensed professional counselors working within the TRICARE program, released at the end of 2011, is not being implemented immediately. Although the regulation was issued as an “interim final rule,” which typically allows an agency to begin operating under its provisions immediately, TRICARE staff indicate they are continuing to require counselors to practice under physician referral and supervision for the time being.

TRICARE is accepting comments on the counselor independent practice regulation until Feb. 27. After the comment period ends, the agency will consider modifications, with a goal of adopting a final version — and instructing TRICARE plans and intermediaries on how to implement it — later this year. TRICARE is the health care program providing services for an estimated 9.6 million active duty military service members, retirees and their families. For many years, TRICARE has allowed all other master’s-level mental health professionals to practice independently, while counselors have been required to practice under physician referral and supervision.

Effective 2015, TRICARE’s proposal would recognize only fully licensed counselors with a master’s degree in mental health counseling from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs who have also passed the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). A full description of DoD’s proposal was included in the February issue of Counseling Today and is also available on the ACA website at counseling.org/publicpolicy/.

ACA encourages counselors to comment on the regulations prior to Feb. 27 using the federal government’s regulatory website at regulations.gov. On the webpage is a drop-down box titled “Select Document Type.” For document type, select “Rule,” and in the box next to it titled “Enter Keyword or ID,” type “certified mental health counselors.” Click “Search,” and the top result listed on the page should be “TRICARE: Certified Mental Health Counselors.” A link for “Submit a Comment” will be on the right-hand side of the page.

ACA will be submitting comments, likely including:

n An expression of strong support for DoD’s proposed transition period, during which counselors with degrees from programs that are not accredited by CACREP can apply for certification as independently practicing mental health counselors

  • A request that TRICARE recognize all relevant counseling master’s degree titles for practice as a mental health counselor
  • A request that TRICARE recognize all supervised experience obtained by counselors that meets the criteria used by the licensure board for the jurisdiction in which they practice
  • A request that TRICARE consider extending the transition period during which the agency will certify counselors with degrees from regionally accredited institutions who have passed the NCMHCE and counselors with degrees from CACREP-accredited programs who have passed the National Counselor Exam.

For more information or a synopsis of TRICARE’s proposed requirements for independent practice, contact Scott Barstow with ACA at 800.347.6647 ext. 234 or sbarstow@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

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