Friday, August 19, 2016

Iowa Gov Terry Branstad's Anti-Bullying Office Lacks Funding

Last year, Governor Terry Branstad set up his own anti-bullying organization called the Governor's Office for Bullying Prevention. It was an alternative to Iowa Safe Schools, which is an LGBT-focused anti-bullying group. Iowa Safe Schools has been chronically scrutinized by Republican lawmakers because of its annual Governor's Conference of LGBTQ Youth conferences -- even though Iowa Safe School, its programming, and its conference are all privately funded.

The Governor's Office for Bullying Prevention was created via executive order and was based at the University of Northern Iowa. It's mission is to "empower schools to provide 'each and every student with a safe and respectful learning environment.'" It's supposed to promote programming aimed at preventing and responding to bullying. It's also supposed to promote an existing 24-hour hotline for bullied students and their parents.

Turns out that Terry Branstad's anti-bullying program lacks funding -- either public or private:
The Governor’s Office for Bullying Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa has received no private grants since launching in September 2015, according to documents provided by the Cedar Falls school. The state also hasn’t provided funding, as Branstad decided in January not to allocate money, citing budgetary constraints.

The small office offers some programming, but the lack of clear or consistent funding raises questions about its long-term effectiveness in addressing statewide bullying and harassment...

UNI’s Center for Violence Prevention, which since 2011 has focused on issues such as domestic and sexual assault, oversees the bullying prevention office. When the office was initially placed under the center’s watch, Branstad’s office said the center had existing funds to house the anti-bullying program.

Although the center had at least $68,000 available in private grants for the budget year that began in July, a review shows most of the money is earmarked for efforts such as mentoring school athletes as it relates to sexual assault prevention and relationship abuse. Other money is for research.

Alan Heisterkamp, the director and only full-time employee at the violence prevention center and bullying prevention office, said that private funds for violence prevention have been used to provide training and legislative lobbying on bullying issues, but that it’s hard to specify the spending because the topics are similar. 

Heisterkamp, whose $97,000 salary is covered by UNI, told The Associated Press last fall that the governor’s office contacted the university about creating the bullying office less than two weeks before issuing the executive order. About four months later, Branstad opted not to recommend a $250,000 request from UNI to fund the violence prevention center, which in turn would have supported the bullying prevention office. Heisterkamp plans to ask again.
I love this quote from Nate Monson, the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools:
“It sounds like bullying prevention is not being treated like the priority that it is... It’s a new school year and I’m already receiving phone calls about kids being bullied or afraid to start the school year. Without a functioning office or without functioning guidance from the state, it doesn’t work.”

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