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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Schools: The Missing Link in Promoting Healthy Children

On May 9th, 2012, Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health, along with a group of partner organizations (including Health & Disability Advocates), released policy recommendations to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. The recommendations called on the departments to “further support the critical connection between health and learning, and build this priority into the Department’s infrastructure and leadership.
A strong connection exists between children’s health and education. A child who is healthy is more likely to attend school and engage in learning. However, many schools lack things necessary to promoting health, such as access to clean air and water, nutritious food and school nurses; and do not provide an opportunity for students to be active throughout the day.  
School’s lack of emphasis on health comes at a time when promoting health is of the utmost importance. Rates of chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes or obesity, have doubled among kids in the last several decades. Students with a chronic condition often need extra care to manage their condition, and school—a place where many kids spend most of their time—could play an important role in their health.
Our nation faces a growing achievement gap in our nation’s students—which recent studies have shown to be linked to health issues. Low-income minority students are more likely to suffer from health issues, as well as more likely to attend a school without a healthy environment.
Healthy Schools Campaign, Trust for America’s Health and their partner organizations crafted their recommendations with these strong connections between health and learning in mind. The recommendations focus on actions that are within the government’s role to make and can have an immediate impact on the health of students and the achievement gap:

Recommendations to the Department of Education:
  1. Expanding the mandate of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) and appointing a Deputy Assistant Secretary to the office in order to build up the office’s capacity for leadership.
  2. Support pre-service and professional development programs for teachers and principals by making health a priority in grants and other training programs.
  3. Make health an important factor of the standard of excellence for the Blue Ribbon Program.
  4. Developing and disseminating best practices for colleges and universities to support teachers’ and school leaders’ abilities to address student health needs
  5. Support the development of resources for schools to effectively engage parents around school health and wellness issues.
  6. Support the development of educational data systems and school accountability programs that incorporate student health.
Recommendation to the Department of Health and Human Services:
  1. Reduce barriers schools face in providing health care to students: Currently, restrictive regulations limit the reimbursements schools can receive from Medicaid. Removing these restrictions, which HHS itself deemed “unenforceable,” would allow schools to expand the health care schools can afford to provide to students.
  2.   Include Schools in the National Prevention Strategy: The strategy emphasized the importance of making good health a priority in all areas of life, not just within a health care setting. It is important for HHS to acknowledge how important schools are to an effective prevention strategy, and to fully investigate the role schools may be able to play in promoting health.

At the event, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced a $75 million investment in the establishment of school health centers, as a part of the School-Based Health Center Capital (SBHCC) Program, created by the Affordable Care Act. These health centers offer disease prevention and health screenings to students. This announcement marks one of many necessary steps in the right direction towards the integration of health and education.

Stephanie Altman
Health & Disability Advocates; Program and Policy Director
Check back with Illinois Health Matters for more info on how the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services integrate health into the nation’s schools. 

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