Reynolds announces $20 million school mental health program

By: - June 23, 2021 1:47 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced several new education initiatives on Wednesday, June 23. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced several new education programs Wednesday, including a $20 million initiative to offer additional mental health resources to Iowa schools. 

The Iowa Center for School Mental Health is a partnership between the Department of Education and the University of Iowa. College of Education Dean Daniel Clay said the center will serve three main purposes: training teachers and staff to recognize and support student mental health needs, researching best practices for school mental health, and providing a clinical service for educators to use in times of individual or collective stress.

“We’ve already been providing some service to school districts around the state the last couple years,” Clay said. “This money will allow us to scale up so that we can provide services to all the schools that need it and not just those few schools that can afford to pay for those services now.”

The center, operating from University of Iowa’s campus, will bring together faculty from University of Iowa’s education, nursing, social work, psychiatry and public health departments and from other Regents institutions, Clay said. He anticipates the University of Iowa will hire additional faculty to help teach school counselors and psychologists. The center will also employ additional clinical and consultation professionals to help intervene in crises, especially those where a community is dealing with a tragedy together.

“The principal and the school counselors may be a part of the traumatized group of individuals,” Clay said. “They wouldn’t be able to lead a trauma response because they were also a victim.”

Reynolds, Clay and Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, emphasized that mental health resources were essential as teachers and students process the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Depression, anxiety has been a real challenge for the kids in our schools prior to COVID,” Clay said. “I think the social isolation and the stress of that pandemic has really exacerbated the mental health issues.”

The department will use federal money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER ll) Fund to start the program. Clay said he hopes the center will become financially sustainable through faculty research grants and charitable donations. 

The Department of Education will also allocate an additional $10 million in federal funds to the Waterloo and Council Bluffs school districts, Reynolds announced Wednesday.

The Waterloo Community School District plans to use $3 million to address the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

“Even when a district controls for poverty and other differentiating factors, our white students still outperform our Black and brown students … We must fully commit ourselves to changing these outcomes,” Superintendent Jane Lindaman said. 

Lindaman said Waterloo teachers and staff will work with the Department of Education this summer to create a plan for the upcoming school year. She anticipates the new funding will go toward growing existing programs like implicit bias training for teachers, as well as providing additional instruction for minority students, bringing in expert speakers and examining curricula for cultural biases. 

“It really is revisiting everything that we do: policies, practices and procedures,” Lindaman said.

In Council Bluffs, schools will launch a $7 million pilot program to expand early child care for and preschool services. Some of the funding will go toward building an early learning center, planned for a fall 2023 opening. Together, the new programs will provide for nearly 200 additional students a year, Superintendent Vickie Murillo said.

Reynolds did not commit to funding the pilot programs with state money after the federal assistance runs out.

“This will give us an option, working with national experts, to see how those evidence-based programs work and where we can strategically place our funding to get the best results,” Reynolds said.

Finally, Reynolds announced additional assistance for child care providers. The Department of Human Services will expand scholarship programs and salary supplements for early education professionals. The state will also increase the rate for the Child Care Assistance program.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.