For millions of children, the health screenings and services they receive at school serve as a critical lifeline. Schools use Medicaid funding to provide basic health screenings for vision, hearing and mental health problems. For many children, this is their only interaction with a health professional all year.
Seventy-eight percent of school districts use Medicaid funding to hire school nurses, social workers and psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and other health professionals.
Medicaid funding is especially vital for children with special needs; it ensures schools have the resources for wheelchairs, feeding tubes, specialized playground equipment, medicine, and equipment to assist with seeing and hearing, as well as the staff to support these students. And for children with asthma and other chronic conditions, Medicaid funding means there’s always a health professional on site in an emergency.
The healthcare bill being considered in the Senate would rip away these supports and jeopardize school staff’s ability to make sure every child who steps into a classroom is ready to learn. We strongly oppose this flawed proposal to block-grant the Medicaid program; children cannot learn to their fullest potential with unmet health needs.
We and the people we represent see the impact of having Medicaid-supported services for the millions of children who come through our classrooms. Public school educators, administrators and support staff keep students safe and care for their health and well-being, including making sure they’re not hungry.
When a parent or guardian enrolls a child in kindergarten without any immunization records, school personnel spring into action: Administrators flag the issue, and nurses or other school professionals find doctors, dentists or specialists who will take the child on as a patient and even examine and treat the child at school if transportation is a barrier.
A school nurse and a school psychologist can also provide a full health screening to identify immediate issues that could affect learning. If issues are found, a nurse will follow up with the parent or guardian to explain the results. School personnel may also follow up throughout the school year to monitor any treatment plan or medication needs the child has inside or outside of school. Everything in this chain of events is paid for through Medicaid.
The impact of these services goes well beyond poor children and students with disabilities. While funded through Medicaid, all students benefit from the expanded health services and staff that districts are able to afford.
School districts will face hard choices if the Republican cuts to Medicaid go through. Districts will be forced to raise taxes to fill the Medicaid shortfall and will have to cut other programs for kids to make up for the loss. Or they’ll stop providing students with disabilities and poor students the healthcare supports and services they need to learn and stay healthy. A recent survey of 1,000 school leaders, conducted by AASA, found that school leaders don’t believe they would be able to find the money necessary to take the place of Medicaid funds, given widespread funding cuts at the local, state and federal levels.
Teachers, school staff and superintendents—those of us on the front lines of providing care to students—are speaking out and taking action to oppose these cuts. AFT members are educating parents and their communities about what these cuts will mean for children, and they are calling on their senators to reject the Senate healthcare bill. AASA has superintendents from across the country writing to their senators to explain the devastating impact of the proposed Medicaid cuts. The best way to stop this bill is by making sure your senator hears loud and clear that you oppose it.
Instead of these cuts, senators should build on what works and increase access to the healthcare services through Medicaid to improve health and educational outcomes for students. Providing health and wellness services for students in poverty, and services that benefit students with disabilities, expands opportunity and ultimately enables more children to become employable and participate in higher education.
The fact that Congress would seek to radically transform Medicaid, in order to provide tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, is both troubling and cruel. America’s future prosperity is riding on the success of the children in school today; these cuts chip away at public education’s foundational purpose—to unlock opportunity and help all children succeed.
Randi Weingarten is the president of American Federation of Teachers. Daniel Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.