Governor Reynolds to use pandemic relief money for new mental health center for schools

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday the state will allocate $30 million of federal pandemic relief funds toward education initiatives to help with the toll COVID-19 took on students and teachers.

Twenty million dollars will go toward the creation of the Iowa Center for School Mental Health — a partnership with the University of Iowa — to expand training, resources and outreach for current and future teachers in the state.

Department of Education director Ann Lebo said expanding mental health services and training is necessary as the emotional effects of the pandemic are still present.

“This past year, many of our schools saw increases in anxiety and depression among their students,” Lebo said. “Addressing these growing needs and ensuring students feel connected and supported is crucial to their overall well-being and academic achievement.”

Starting this summer, the center will offer crisis response services, in-person and online training and coaching for teachers and other support resources for teachers.

Additionally, the state will partner with two Iowa school districts to launch pilot programs to address other educational needs. Reynolds said the programs will be funded by additional COVID-19 relief funds at first, but the state will re-evaluate once those funds run out to decide if state tax dollars will be spent on the initiatives going forward.

Three million dollars will go toward the Waterloo School District to improve reading and math deficiencies for elementary students who are struggling. Superintendent Jane Lindaman said this gap is even greater with their students of color.

“Sometimes we attempt to explain achievement gaps is largely due to socioeconomic disparities, but the truth is that even when a district controls for poverty and other differentiating factors, our white students still outperform our black and brown students,” Lindaman said. “These gaps are pervasive and they are persistent and we must fully commit ourselves to changing these outcomes.”

Another $7 million of federal relief money will be used on child care and preschool programs in the Council Bluffs School District. District superintendent Dr. Vickie Murillo said it will help pay for the construction of a new early learning center on a vacant lot in the heart of the district. She said the goal is to have the center open and running by 2023.

“With the expanded preschool and new child care opportunities, nearly 200 more students every year will be better prepared to learn to their fullest and be kindergarten ready,” Murillo said.

Governor Reynolds also announced the state will be increasing child care assistance (CCA) rates, stipends to accelerate COVID-19 recovery efforts, and enhancements to programs promoting educational opportunities for child care providers. 

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