Healthy students are better learners. Increasing school-based health services would improve the academic performance of Florida’s schools and reduce health and academic disparities based on income and race. A recent federal policy change allows for school districts to draw down funds to pay for school-based health services for all Medicaid-eligible children. But Florida policymakers must act in order for school districts and students to benefit from these changes. This includes amending Florida law and bringing together key stakeholders to identify best practices and develop a strategic action plan for maximizing use of these new dollars.
Students with access to robust health care services do better in school and life—they have fewer absences, are more likely to graduate from high school and they earn more as adults. School-based health services help students thrive. New federal Medicaid policies provide Florida school districts an unprecedented opportunity for not only accessing millions more in federal dollars to support these services, but also to give Florida's most vulnerable children greater access to critical health care.
Of the 2.7 million students enrolled in public schools, over 1 million are covered by Medicaid. Medicaid is a public health insurance program that provides a lifeline of health coverage for 3.8 million low-income Floridians, including over 2 million under age 18. Medicaid covers pediatric services, including periodic health, dental, vision and mental health screenings, diagnosis and treatment. Schools are a key venue for reaching students with Medicaid-covered services. School-based health services meet students where they are, at a critical time and place for their healthy development and readiness to learn.
Multiple studies document the value of providing health services in the school setting, including less absenteeism, better academic performance and better health outcomes. Low-income families often face barriers to getting health services for their children, including losing wages for missed work hours and inflexible schedules. School-based services provide families and their children easier access to care. They also provide important opportunities to reduce health disparities for the most underserved Florida children, including children of color, and improve school-based professional health staffing ratios, which are woefully below recommended standards.
Florida's current infrastructure and funding streams for school-based health services provide an excellent foundation for increasing federal resources to support these services. But tapping into these resources will not happen automatically. To fully realize their benefits, many current Florida policies and practices must be reviewed and revised. This includes: