September 10, 2019

Florida House and Senate Introduce Legislation That Would Enable Schools to Access Over $50 million More in Federal Funding for Health Services

Bill making technical correction to state law would benefit students’ physical and mental health

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida schools could see millions in additional federal dollars for school-based health services — including mental health screenings, diagnoses and treatment — under House Bill (HB) 81/Senate Bill (SB) 190, according to the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI).

Schools are an ideal venue for giving children access to health care, and the Association of School Superintendents has reported that there are substantial health and educational benefits in reaching children "where they are.”

More than 1 million of the 2.7 million students enrolled in public schools are covered under Medicaid. Although recent federal policy changes allow schools to receive matching federal dollars for school-based health services provided to any Medicaid-eligible child, these changes are not automatic, as pointed out in a recent FPI report. Current state law — which limits the federal match to those services provided to children with disabilities who have an individualized education plan — must be updated.

“Students are better learners when they are healthy, and so ensuring that schools can provide Florida children with critical health care services could reduce absenteeism and help improve educational outcomes,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “School-based services are especially beneficial for working families who have low household incomes. These parents or caretakers often face barriers like a lack of transportation or inflexible work schedules, which make it hard to take their children to medical appointments.”

“The Medicaid school-based services bill is common sense legislation allowing the state to take advantage of millions of dollars in federal matching funds we are currently not accessing to provide vital public health and mental health services to our schools,” said Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola), who introduced the bill in the Florida House. “We cannot afford to overlook any opportunity that benefits Florida’s children. I’m looking forward to working with my Senate counterparts to get this bill to the Governor’s desk”

“I hear firsthand from families in the panhandle still reeling from Hurricane Michael and in need of resources to address the long-term mental health effects,” said Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), who introduced the bill in the Florida Senate. “This change in law is common sense and provides school districts another tool to reach students statewide. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues this year to provide increased medical and, particularly, mental health services to children that are so desperately needed.”

“Our kids are our future and we want them to be as healthy as possible,” said Senator Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), co-sponsor of the Senate legislation. “It’s very important for those who are on Medicaid to have access to the treatment and services they need. Providing school-based services will make it much easier for them to receive the physical and mental health services they need to stay healthy and become productive citizens of our great state!”

An identical bill introduced during the last legislative session (HB 587/SB 290) passed several committees in the House; however, it did not make it to the floor for a final vote.

“We applaud Representative Andrade, Senator Montford and Senator Harrell for championing this initiative,” added Knight.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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