Mental health, education budget reviewed at legislative forum

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY - Marshalltown Community School District educator Sue Cahill of Marshalltown, left, makes a point during a Marshalltown Education Association-sponsored legislative forum at the public library Saturday. Looking on is fellow MCSD educator Maggie Parks of Garwin.

How to best identify, address and treat student mental health needs in the classroom was central at the first of what will be several Marshalltown Education Association-sponsored legislative forums Saturday.

Motivating their attendance at the host public library was the appearance by Sen. Jeff Elder, R-State Center, and Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.

They briefed the group on the legislature’s education initiatives. The 2019 session began Jan. 14. Consequently, much of the work by Democrats and Republicans has been in committee.

Edler said he is on the senate’s Education Committee, among other committee assignments. The senate Education Committee is studying the most effective ways to treat students with mental health challenges and transportation “equity” funding.

Edler said mental health is complex, with the Iowa Department of Human Services weighing in on standards, joined by educators and others.

“Providing mental health services is not a teacher’s job,” Edler said. “However, because the child is at the school so much of the time, that creates a large access point for (mental health) screening. Those details will be forthcoming … I know the Area Education Association is in the business of training teachers, but we should let teachers have the option of taking training … they know what is best to do their job. We have to be respectful of that as we move forward … teachers have told us they have enough regulations to follow.”

Educators said a balance is needed on the issue, that they are sometimes the only adult consistently in some children’s lives, and are in the position to clearly identify mental health issues.

Edler said he expects a lot more discussion and negotiations to take place from both sides.

Smith said he is concerned about the current lack of mental health professionals in the work place.

A second point generating extended discussion was how best to award districts funds to transport students. The current formula, which comes out of the education budget, awards districts the most money who transport students many miles.

Smith said House Democrats have proposed a 3 percent increase in the state’s education budget, while Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed 2.3 percent.

“There will be negotiations between our chamber, the senate and the governor’s office,” Smith said.