COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s largest school district is seeking a new tax levy to fund ongoing mental health and academic supports for its roughly 38,000 students.

If approved, the proposal before voters in the Anoka-Hennepin School District would bring in $11 million for the investment. District estimates show that would mean an extra $10 per month in property taxes on a home worth $250,000, beginning in 2023.

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Dr. Katie Pekel, who is the principal in residence at the University of Minnesota overseeing professional development programs for school leaders, said she believes it’s the first question of its kind looking at a specific tax levy to support mental health services.

“This is the first time we’re really seeing it around a need that perhaps people think should just be taken care of in the school, but I think what we’re seeing is those funds aren’t necessarily there,” Pekel said.

In surveys, educators, students and families detail mental health as a top challenge — especially amid a pandemic that’s exacerbated those issues.

The state’s counselor-to-student ratios are the worst in the nation, Pekel said, and she lauded this effort as a potential answer to meet long-term needs.

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“I think it says leadership in that district is being responsive to the things they say see and they’re saying, ‘if we really are going to be supportive, we have to put money behind it and if we don’t have that money right now, we have to go out to our community and ask for it,'” Pekel said.

District leaders say the levy would sustain services made possible by one-time federal COVID relief funds. That money helped hire 20 social workers and counselors and 30 academic support teachers.

“Our community has said they want to support underachieving students and students below grade level, and address the social-emotional and mental health consistently throughout the pandemic and for the past several years,” Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law said in a statement. “There is a need for stability in funding.”

The other two questions would not raise any additional taxes.

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Caroline Cummings