Iowa must use its budget surplus to address mental health and public education shortages, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear said Saturday.
DeJear spoke with a group of more than 50 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. The state underfunds both public education and mental health, she said, and must use government money to help Iowans in need.
“We need to have leadership that’s going to put your resources to work, not sidestep the issue,” DeJear said. “It’s a strong point to recognize the challenges that exist.”
One of those challenges, she said, is bringing back high-quality public education. Iowa was once number one in education, she said, but recent budget cuts have hampered public schools in the state. The Republican-controlled Legislature this year passed a 2.5% increase in education funding per student in Iowa, which Democrats say is failing to keep pace with rising education. inflation.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, DeJear’s opponent, has also made his legislation to provide Iowa students with taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools a rallying cry this election season. Reynolds is not expected to speak from the podium.
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DeJear said the lack of investment in education is not just hurting students, but hurting Iowa’s economy. She said underfunding of Iowa’s child care and higher education systems has kept some Iowans from working, with parents having to stay home and students not having the ways to pay for courses to learn job skills.
While there are problems now, DeJear said the history of Iowa’s public schools, from its top ranking to early desegregation, shows Iowans won’t be content with the status quo.
“We know that as Iowans this is not our place and this is not what our children deserve,” she said.
Children in Iowa are also underserved by state mental health resources, she said. DeJear shared the story of a 17-year-old whose father took him to the emergency room after revealing thoughts of self-harm. The family was told he would have to wait six months for a psychiatric appointment or travel nearly five hours from Dubuque to Sioux City for hospital treatment.
That state has fewer than 600 mental health beds for a population of more than 3 million people, DeJear said, which is far too few. She told reporters that the state should open more critical mental health care access points. In 2018, the legislature passed a mental health bill that called for the opening of six regional “access centers” — places where people with a mental health crisis could go to receive help. help without hospitalization.
Only two of those access centers have opened, DeJear said. Iowa needs to use its surplus to open the remaining four centers, she said, and to improve other state mental health resources.
“We’re not broke either: $1.5 million of your taxpayers’ money is deposited in an account that this current governor calls a ‘trust fund,'” DeJear said. I think you have to be in a privileged position to have a trust fund. It’s the Iowa Rainy Day Fund, and it rains in our state.
Read what other contestants had to say at the state fair here.