Deidre DeJear, Democratic candidate for Iowa governor, talked with reporters following her speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 13, 2022 at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Iowa needs to use its budget surplus to address shortages in mental health and public education, Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear said Saturday.
DeJear spoke to a group of more than 50 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. The state is underfunding both public education and mental health, she said, and needs to put government money to use helping Iowans in need.
“We have to have leadership that’s going to put your resources to work, not circumvent the problem,” DeJear said. “It is a point of strength to acknowledge the challenges that exist.”
One of those challenges, she said, is bringing back high-quality public education. Iowa used to be number one in education, she said, but recent budget cuts have hindered the state’s public schools. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a 2.5% increase to Iowa’s per-pupil education funding this year, which Democrats say fails to keep pace with rising inflation.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, DeJear’s opponent, has also made her legislation to offer Iowa students taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools a rallying cry this election season. Reynolds is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox.
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DeJear said the lack of education investment doesn’t just hurt students, but hurts Iowa’s economy. She said underfunding Iowa’s child care and higher education systems has kept some Iowans out of the workforce, with parents needing to stay home and students not able to afford classes to gain job skills.
While there are problems now, DeJear said the history of Iowa public schools, from its top ranking to early desegregation, show that Iowans won’t settle for the status quo.
“We know as Iowans that’s not where we belong and that’s not what our children deserve,” she said.
Iowa children are also underserved by the state’s mental health resources, she said. DeJear shared a story of a 17-year-old child whose father took him to the emergency room after he revealed thoughts of self-harm. The family was told he would have to wait six months for a psychiatric appointment, or travel almost five hours from Dubuque to Sioux City for inpatient treatment.
This state has less than 600 mental health beds for a population of more than 3 million people, DeJear said, which is far too few. She told reporters the state should open more critical mental health care access points. In 2018, the Legislature passed a mental health bill which called for opening six regional “access centers” — places where people having a mental health crisis could go to receive help without hospitalization.
Only two of those access centers have opened, DeJear said. Iowa needs to use its surplus to open the remaining four centers, she said, and to improve other state mental health resources.
“We’re also not broke: $1.5 million of your taxpayer money is sitting in an account that this current governor is calling a ‘trust fund,'” DeJear said. “Well, I’m of the mindset that you need to be in a position of privilege to have a trust fund. That’s Iowa’s rainy day fund, and it’s raining in our state.”
Read what other candidates had to say at the state fair here.
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