The Stronger Connections Grant: A Guide for K-12 Districts for Student Mental Health Services

The Stronger Connections Grant is awarded based on specific criteria and guidelines set by the federal government, and distributed by State Education Agencies (SEAs).

Youth mental health has emerged as a critical concern over the last decade, with alarming statistics collected around anxiety, depression, suicide, and bullying – an estimated 50% of adolescents have a mental health disorder, with almost a third of 13- to 18-year olds experiencing anxiety.  An increasing number of students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness indicative of depression, including 57% of girls (up from 36% in 2011), 29% of boys, and 69% of LGBTQ+ students. Almost 15% of adolescents have been officially diagnosed with depression, but over 60% have not received treatment for major depressive or anxious episodes.

On an equally troubling note, the CDC found that between 2011 to 2021, 30% of high school girls had seriously considered suicide. That jumped to more than 45% for LGBTQ+ teens. Among Black youth, the suicide rate increased almost 37%. U.S. high school students are struggling with their mental health and need more school-based support to provide equitable access to these services. 

Though many of these mental health challenges existed before 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated them, prompting schools to leverage ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds for school-based mental health programs. In order to sustain these programs, districts must access new funding solutions to continue providing these much-needed student mental-health services. In order to establish longer-term school-based solutions, schools must leverage new federal or state grants. The Stronger Connections Grant (SCG) is a federal grant—which is awarded at the state level—which presents an opportunity for K-12 districts to sustainably fortify their student mental health programs. 

Understanding the Stronger Connections Grant

What is the Strong Connections Grant?

The Stronger Connections Grant is a federal initiative which aims to bolster mental health support services in K-12 educational institutions. The grant recognizes that schools are pivotal in promoting mental health and wellness and provides financial assistance to address students' mental health needs. This grant can be used by local education agencies (LEAs) to fund student well-being and violence prevention initiatives. 

In 2022, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) provided the Stronger Connections Grant with $1 billion in funding to support LEAs and schools in establishing safe, healthy, and supportive learning opportunities and environments. States can award subgrants to high-need LEAs to establish safer and healthier learning environments, which can include providing school-based mental health services, and preventing and responding to acts of bullying, violence, and hate that impact school communities at individual and systemic levels. The BSCA intended that Stronger Connections funds would also be used to establish partnerships within the community to provide resources and support for schools, ultimately geared toward strengthening relationships between schools and communities to improve student success.

The Grant Allocation Process

The Stronger Connections Grant is awarded based on specific criteria and guidelines set by the federal government, and distributed by State Education Agencies (SEAs). Each school’s eligibility for the SCG is determined by high-need local LEAs, based off the following factors:

Each state receives a set amount of grant funding. Once an SEA determines that a school meets these factors, they will review the school’s application (more on that below), and disburse funding throughout the state. 

State Nuances

There are three rounds of funding, with all funds requiring disbursement by September 30, 2026. While the first round deadlines for SCG funding have already passed for many states, some states already have, and others will soon, begin accepting applications for round 2. The allocation nuances vary, with deadlines and eligibility criteria interpreted differently in each state. If you’re a district looking to leverage the Stronger Connections Grant, you need to learn about your state-specific criteria.

For example, while there exists a federal definition for high-need LEAs, Florida defines a high-need LEA as one with a high percentage – 40% or higher – of students identified as economically disadvantaged AND high rates of chronic absenteeism, 20% or higher, within two subgroups, Students with Disabilities (SWDs) and English Language Learners (ELLs). Under this definition, 72 Floridian LEAs are eligible to apply, with the state anticipating that approximately 55-60 grants will be awarded. 

In Georgia, the criteria indicate that any LEA in the state eligible to receive a Title IV, Part A formula allocation may apply for SCG funding. “The primary criteria for eligibility requires that the applicant be able to clearly articulate their need for funding as it relates to supporting the health and safety of students.” 

While there are some similarities across the states – for example, proving high levels of poverty, and capping the number of eligible LEAs – there are enough nuances to make a careful look at this state-specific breakdown of eligibility and disbursement criteria worthwhile. 

Utilizing Funds for Student Mental Health Services

LEAs who receive the Strong Connections grant are able to use funds for a variety of uses. Some of the ways districts can use these funds include:

  • School-based mental health services, including suicide prevention, mentoring, and school counseling
  • Implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports
  • Establishing partnerships within the community to provide resources and support for schools
  • High-quality training for school personnel in effective practices related to any of the above, and more, all aimed at creating safe and supportive learning environments.

Notably, SCG funding can be used to address student mental health challenges. Daybreak Health partners with districts across the country to provide school-based mental health services and several of these districts have leveraged SCG to fund these programs. 

Washington’s Wenatchee School District successfully utilized the SCG to fund Daybreak’s teletherapy program, providing students quick, 1:1 access to licensed clinicians. Within 24 hours of launching the program, 15 interest forms for virtual therapy were submitted.

Applying for the Next Round of the Stronger Connections Grant

Assessment and planning

Before applying, districts should determine whether they are eligible under their state LEAs requirements. If eligible, the district should conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to determine where SCG funds would be most effectively applied. Needs assessments should engage a wide variety of stakeholders, including educators, mental health professionals, parents, and students, in order to ensure initiatives are tailored to address federal and state-specific requirements. At this stage, it’s also important to think ahead to implementation. Ensure proposed programs and interventions align with evidence-based practices. This might involve training teachers in specific practices, hiring additional counselors, implementing social-emotional learning programs, or forging partnerships with community organizations.

General scope and examples 

Most state SCG applications require some combination of a budget, program objectives, expenditure descriptions, and program assurances. Data-driven insights will guide disbursement, ensuring resources are used effectively. Each state has its own additional requirements. All SCG funds must be disbursed by states by September 30, 2026. To learn more about state-specific applications and deadlines, download this free resource:

The Stronger Connections grant signifies a pivotal opportunity for K-12 districts to reinforce their commitment to student mental health and future well-being. By strategically leveraging these funds, districts can create nurturing environments where students thrive academically and emotionally. As your district embarks on this journey, Daybreak Health is here to help you navigate the intricacies of funding, and serve as a partner in creating sustainable change in the realm of student mental health, ensuring a brighter, healthier future for our youth.

Downloadable Content

The State of Youth Mental Health & Our Schools

How schools are responding to the rising demand for student mental health services.