GOP lawmaker seeks $100M for school mental health programs, Democrats criticize the move as 'political'

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- With many students struggling with their mental health since the pandemic hit, a Republican lawmaker is proposing giving schools $100 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for mental health programs.

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Jon Plumer (R-Lodi), would require Gov. Tony Evers to use $100 million in federal funding to pay for it, a move that Democrats called "political" since they've been advocating for additional mental health resources for years.

Gov. Evers is the only one who has the authority to spend billions in federal COVID-19 relief aid and it's likely he would veto the bill since it also aims to give Republicans more control over how that money is spent.

"The public should know how billions of their dollars are being spent," said Plumer. "We know there's a need here and we also know mental health needs will be ongoing."

Earlier this year, Evers vetoed a Republican bill that sought to give them more authority in spending federal pandemic aid.

While both sides of the aisle support giving schools more money for mental health resources, finding compromise on how to fund those programs has been a challenge.

Plumer's bill would be in addition to Gov. Evers already giving school districts $147 million in federal aid to spend on a variety of things.

Democrats also rallied behind the governor's state budget proposal to invest $53.5 million for mental health programs, which Republicans rejected, and instead approved a $19 million increase over the biennium.

"We are here agreeing, let's fund mental health incentives of Wisconsin's kids, absolutely, but these are not solutions [Republicans] are proposing, they are political games," said Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa).

An Evers spokeswoman also criticized the GOP bill and encouraged Republicans to use state funds to make "meaningful investments" in students' mental health.

"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," said Britt Cudaback, Evers' spokeswoman. "Instead of playing politics, Republicans should use readily available state resources to make the meaningful investments our kids and our schools deserve."

The GOP bill would be one-time funding according to Plumer, who testified to lawmakers on the mental health committee Tuesday.

"We know that these children are safe from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 in the afternoon, we have no idea what they are going through on nights or weekends," said Plumer. "This money is needed."

Democrats on the committee proposed a substitute amendment to Plumer's bill that would invest state funds for mental health programs.

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