By Rachel Schlueter
Early Childhood Educator
As an educator, I know that students can’t reach their full potential if they don’t have the strong support system they need in and out of the classroom. We all know how tough the past few years have been, especially for our students who missed out on big milestones, and for teachers like myself who adapted to the challenges in front of us to help keep our communities safe and healthy. Parents and teachers across this state can agree, our kids need access to quality mental health services, now more than ever.
We need to make sure our kids have the tools they need to get ahead. That’s why Governor Evers announced a new “Get Kids Ahead” initiative to invest $15 million in mental health services to support kids in districts across the state. Schools can opt-in to receive these funds, no matter how big or small they are. With this investment, thousands of kids can access the mental health support they need.
Schools will be able to use the funds to provide direct mental health care, hire and support mental health navigators, provide mental health first aid and trauma-based care training, and provide family assistance programs. Every public school district in the state — more than 450 local education agencies — is eligible to receive a portion of these funds.
Due to the previous administration’s attacks on public education, Wisconsin schools are still dealing with a shortage of teachers and staff in every area, including in mental health. Having funds available to recruit and retain mental health staff is so vital to supporting not just our students, but also teachers and staff who face challenges every single day.
Governor Evers has put our kids first, at every turn. In his state budget this year, he signed into law the first special education funding increase and largest investment in general aid in a decade. Now, our schools are ranked among the top 10 in the country – our K-12 schools rank 8th best in the nation after dropping to 18th in 2018. Governor Evers also increased the state’s investment in the UW college system and Wisconsin’s community and technical colleges.
The governor also recognizes that we need to take action to ensure that our students, teachers, and staff can feel safe at school — that’s why he called a special session in 2019 to take action on gun safety. Governor Evers and Democrats in the legislature have repeatedly called on Republican legislators to put aside partisan games and pass common sense gun safety measures to protect Wisconsinites and end the gun violence epidemic. This shouldn’t be partisan — this is about protecting our kids, at school and at home. Teachers shouldn’t have to add school safety officer to the list of things we do everyday.
Governor Evers has always prioritized education — his opponents can’t say the same about their records. Rebecca Kleefisch has used our kids as political pawns, proudly standing by her administration’s devastating cuts to schools and attempting to insert divisive partisan battles into the classroom. In 2011, the Walker-Kleefisch administration’s state budget cut funding for public schools by $1.2 billion, the largest reduction in state history. Kevin Nicholson has proposed breaking up neighborhood schools and destabilizing our education system, and ripping away funds from public schools to use as leverage, rather than offering up positive plans for improving Wisconsin’s school system.
Our kids’ education and mental health is not a game. As Governor Evers always says, and every educator knows, what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, period. That’s why it’s never been more important to ensure our students have the funding and support they deserve – and why we can’t afford for the next governor to play games with education funding.
We cannot let our students fall behind as the rest of the world moves forward. In 2022, public education and support for students is on the line. In order to keep moving forward, continue strengthening our public school system, and supporting students and educators – we must re-elect Governor Tony Evers.