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MI education and health leaders urge legislature to approve governor's budget proposal for schools

State of Michigan Superintendent Michael Rice stands behind a podium at the Potterville Elementary School library. Behind him stacks of children's books are visible. On the podium the words: "Potterville" are written. Rice is wearing a black suit and a tie. He is bald with white skin and glasses.
State of Michigan Superintendent Michael Rice advocated on behalf of the Governor’s budget plan at Potterville Elementary School Tuesday.

Michigan education and health leaders are asking the legislature to approve Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Her plan calls for using $361 million to expand mental health services in schools.

State Superintendent Michael Rice advocated on behalf of the governor’s budget plan at a press conference held at Potterville Elementary School Tuesday. He said districts need additional support to work through mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

As he explained, that would include "funding for mental health screenings, school-based mental health professionals, school-based mental and physical health efforts, school-based clinic expansion and services for children with severe mental health needs."

The Potterville School District uses a mental health program called Capturing Kids' Hearts. It's a training program that helps teachers and administrators create a culture of support and care. Funding was made possible through a grant from the Michigan Department of Education.

Kevin Robydek, the Potterville superintendent, said thanks to the program, the district has been able to hire mental health staff and nurses to support the schools.

"Unfortunately, our need is much higher though than the current levels that we have," he said. "So, we continue to ask for the support from our governor, from our legislature and MDHHS to support us moving forward."

Rice said approval of the governor's budget could help create similar programs in schools across the state.
The proposal would use $120 million for hiring school nurses and counselors and $25 million for mental health screenings in schools.

Farah Hanley stands behind a podium at the Potterville Elementary School library Tuesday. She has medium length gray hair and is wearing a teal colored skirt, a black suit jacket and blouse. On the podium it reads "Potterville". Behind her shelves of children's books are visible.
Michelle Jokisch Polo
Farah Hanley at the Potterville press conference Tuesday. Hanley is chief deputy director for health overseeing the MDHHS Behavioral and Physical Health and Aging Services Administration and the MDHHS State Hospital Administration.

Farah Hanley oversees behavioral services at the state health department. Hanley said she expects the need for children’s mental health care to increase over the next year.

“As we continue to see trauma from experiencing a pandemic manifest itself in different ways. We have an opportunity right now to do better for our friends, our family, in communities and especially our kids," she said.

According to a recent data analysis from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 34% of Michigan households with children (as of October 2020) report feeling nervous and anxious nearly every day of the week and 22% reported feeling depressed, overwhelmed and hopeless.

The GOP-led state House of Representatives did include more than $100 million in its initial school aid budget to help address the increasing mental health needs of students. But Rice says it’s not enough.

Whitmer’s plan calls for using about $17 billion dollars to support schools across the state. It's a more than one and a half billion dollar increase from last year’s budget. The legislature needs to approve the upcoming state budget by October 1.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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