Gov. Tony Evers gives his State of the State address in the Assembly chamber of the Wisconsin state Capitol on Feb. 15, 2022. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)
Gov. Tony Evers gives his State of the State address in the Assembly chamber of the Wisconsin state Capitol on Feb. 15, 2022. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

A recent study from the CDC found that 37% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and 44% experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Gov. Tony Evers announced this week that nearly every school district in the state is receiving crucial funding in order to expand and improve mental healthcare services for children.

Evers’ “Get Kids Ahead Initiative,” first announced during his 2022 State of the State address, will provide $15 million to Wisconsin school districts, including more than 450 local education agencies, with each district receiving at least $10,000. 

According to the governor’s office, schools can use the money to provide direct mental healthcare, hire and support mental health navigators, provide mental health first aid and trauma-based care training, or provide family assistance programs. 

“We know our kids are struggling now more than ever. A student who is in crisis isn’t going to be able to pay attention in school, finish their homework, or engage meaningfully with their friends or teachers,” Evers said during a visit to Northstar Middle School in Eau Claire on Thursday,

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five Wisconsin students faced a mental health issue, with over 80% of incidents left untreated. Over the past two years, the decline in students’ mental health has become a crisis and educators and school psychologists across Wisconsin have been sounding alarm, urging school districts and elected officials to prioritize students’ mental health. 

A recent national study from the Centers of Disease Control and Protection found that more than one in three high school students (37%) experienced poor mental health during the pandemic while 44% experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” Most shockingly, nearly 20% of respondents seriously considered suicide and 9% attempted suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey, which was conducted between January and June 2021.

Every public school district in the state was eligible to opt in to receive these funds and was guaranteed to receive a minimum of $10,000. The remainder of the funds were allocated on a per-pupil basis. The Eau Claire School District received roughly $160,000 in funds. A breakdown of funding by school districts can be found here.

Evers’ announcement was met with praise from Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb), the ranking member of the Assembly Committee on Education, who said school mental health support is “an essential place to direct our resources.”

“I sincerely appreciate that Governor Evers has never stopped fighting for the needs of our children and our schools,” Pope said in a statement. “His latest announcement of funds to bolster our schools’ mental health services will immensely benefit Wisconsin’s students. Prioritizing student mental health is essential for ensuring they are able to achieve academic success, participate in extracurriculars, and grow in other critical ways.”

Evers’ program will also provide the University of Wisconsin System with $5 million to help students access mental health support. He also recently announced a separate $5 million investment to make telehealth services, including mental and behavioral healthcare, more accessible for Wisconsinites.