MILWAUKEE — A bill to provide more funding for mental health programs in Wisconsin schools is making its way through the State Assembly. Lawmakers say it's critical to act now in order to save our students.
In a public hearing Tuesday, State Rep. Jon Plumer (R - Lodi) pleaded with committee members to vote in favor of his bill. It would require Gov. Tony Evers to allocate at least $100 million in federal pandemic aid to schools for mental health programs.
"We need to do what we can to address the mental health needs, and this bill will help with that Mr. Chair. The governor has allocated some of this, but much remains reserved in general categories with no real specifics on how the funds will be spent," said Plumer.
It's estimated Wisconsin will receive $2.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act. Rep. Plumer says it's critical that some of that money be spent on mental health programs in schools, in order to help children impacted by the pandemic.
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"60% of child suicides in Milwaukee County were tied to virtual learning," argued Plumer.
One in 5 children in Wisconsin lives with a mental illness, according to the State Office of Children's Mental Health. Mental Health America ranks Wisconsin 42nd in the nation in youth mental health.
"I believe this is a really good use of resources, as somebody who's coming out of the schools and during COVID, and see what my own students and families have been dealing with," said Kisten Gillespie with the Wisconsin Center for Resilient Schools.
But not everyone supports the bill.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said, "While additional funding for mental health programs would be welcome... what we have before us is an attempt by our legislative leaders to use our students and educators for political gain. It needs to stop."
TMJ4 also reached out to Gov. Evers' office, which released a statement that said: "Gov. Evers believes what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, which is why he has repeatedly proposed increased investments in mental health support for students, many of which were cut by Republicans in the Legislature. Instead of playing politics, Republicans should use readily available state resources to make the meaningful investments our kids and our schools deserve."