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State puts $20 million into pre-K-12 mental health center

The Iowa Department of Human Services will also expand the T.E.A.C.H and Child Care WAGE$ programs statewide through Fiscal Year 2022.

DES MOINES, Iowa — On Wednesday Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced several moves the state is making in an effort to address child care issues amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those moves is giving child care providers more support, including increased Child Care Assistance (CCA) rates, stipends to accelerate COVID recovery efforts and enhancements to programs promoting educational opportunities. 

The Iowa Department of Human Services will expand the T.E.A.C.H and Child Care WAGE$ programs statewide through Fiscal Year 2022 to help child care providers pursuing higher education.

DHS has also completed an updated 2020 Market Rate Survey to support providers accepting federal Child Care Assistance. This will result in increased rates effective on July 1. Providers are currently being paid at a 2017 rate.

DHS will also continue to pay providers impacted by the pandemic monthly stipends and unlimited absent days for CCA until August 31. 

Watch Reynolds' full press conference on Local 5's YouTube channel

RELATED: Changes to child care system could help you get your kid enrolled in program

Introducing the Iowa Center for School Mental Health

The Iowa Department of Education is partnering with the University of Iowa College of Education's Baker Teacher Leader Center to expand support for mental health in schools, which includes training, resources and outreach to educators and schools across the state. 

The DOE designated $20 million in federal relief provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II).

Starting this summer and throughout the 2021-22 school year, the new Iowa Center for School Mental Health will help expand training opportunities for student teachers and practicing teachers, provide professional development resources and services to support mental health needs in schools and conduct research on the effective delivery of these services to students. 

"I am proud that our university and college are part of this critical partnership to meet the mental health needs of Iowa K-12 students and their families, teachers, administrators and other school employees," said University of Iowa College of Education Dean Daniel Clay. "We are grateful to our state leadership for recognizing the expertise in our college and across campus to bring best practices and evidence-based support to schools. Together, we will help create healthier, stronger, and more resilient students, educators and communities."

More information on how schools can access these services will be provided soon, according to the DOE. 

Waterloo, Council Bluffs school districts to launch pilot programs to promote early childhood education

A separate $10 million will be provided to the Waterloo and Council Bluffs school districts to launch innovation programs.

The DOE will provide $3 million to the Waterloo Community School District to implement a program that's designed to close the achievement gap in literacy and math among students struggling in those subjects. 

"The simple truth is that in Iowa, we're not where we need to be when it comes to our literacy and math proficiency," Reynolds said. "The program will give students an opportunity to overcome their challenges and succeed in their education while providing a template for making similar improvements across the entire state."

Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman said the district had been working to close the achievement gap for students of color before the pandemic hit. 

"While we continued this focus during the pandemic, COVID-19 exacerbated this gap and laid bare the inequities within our school district," Lindaman said. "Through this particular initiative, we will work to raise the achievement of all students with a special focus on accelerating growth for students of color."

Across the state, the Council Bluffs Community School District is working to expand preschool opportunities, including school child care for infants and toddlers in the district. 

The district will receive $7 million from the DOE to implement the program. 

Some of the funds will be used to assist with the construction of the Early Learning Center, which is a vacant lot in the center of the school district. 

"Nearly 200 More students every year will be better prepared to learn to their fullest, and be kindergarten-ready," explained Council Bluffs Superintendent Dr. Vickie Murillo. "Our goal has been to provide universal access to preschool for all of our children, with the investment from the state, and with the partnership of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation to secure additional private donations. We are eager to proceed with making the dream a reality."

Murillo said the goal is to open the center in the fall of 2023. 

DOE Director Dr. Ann Lebo said the reason why the department chose these projects is due to their existing work. 

"We're using the funds to boost it, to help leverage greater capacity so we're not starting from scratch," Lebo said. 

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