Holly Bullard
February 19, 2020

Medicaid School-Based Services: Good Policy is a Team Effort

This post was last updated on September 29, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

As Medicaid school-based services bills near the finish line, Florida Policy Institute (FPI) reflects on how in-depth research can combine with outreach and advocacy to promote good policy.

In August 2018, FPI released a report detailing an opportunity to significantly increase funding for school-based health services in Florida. The report’s author, senior policy analyst and attorney Anne Swerlick, had discovered that Florida statutes precluded the state from participating in a new national policy regarding the Medicaid program and school-based services. Several other states had changed their policies to take advantage of the funding for things like eyeglasses, hearing aids, mental health screenings, access to school nurses, and many other critical services. But for Florida students to benefit, policy change was necessary. Legislators needed to take notice.

FPI reached out to children’s advocacy and health organizations, community groups, and legislators to raise awareness about the federal policy change and the need for legislative action. In 2019, FPI successfully recruited 16 organizations to support the initiative, including the United Ways of Florida, the Florida Children’s Council, Florida PTA, and Florida Voices for Health. With support of this broad coalition, FPI secured bipartisan sponsors for legislation: Rep. Andrade, Republican of Pensacola, and Sen. Montford, Democrat from Tallahassee. During the 2020 Session, Sen. Gayle Harrell, Republican from Stuart and Chair of the Health Policy Committee, joined as a primary Senate cosponsor for the legislation — Senate Bill (SB) 190 and House Bill (HB) 81: “Medicaid School-based Services.”

If this legislation passes, local school districts will be able to draw down $1.56 in federal Medicaid funds for every state or local dollar spent on Medicaid-eligible children needing health services. One such funding stream that districts will be able to better leverage is the Mental Health Assistance funding, boosted as a result of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. In FY 2019-20, the state increased this funding to $75 million. FPI estimates that if school districts had been able to draw down the additional federal match for the mental health services they provided with this funding to Medicaid-eligible children, Florida’s schools would have seen an additional $51 million. (A district-by-district breakdown is provided below.)

Every year that Florida delays passing this policy change is a year that schools and districts are missing out on significant match dollars, not just for mental health services, but for a whole range of health services. Expanding access to school-based health services would ensure healthier children, lower absenteeism, a reduction in health disparities and increased academic performance. HB 81 is up for a vote on the House floor this week; SB 190 has made it through two of its three committees in the Senate. Thanks to expert policy research, broad coalition building, and strong public champions, Florida is very close to passing legislation that will be an important step toward better supporting student health.

Take a simple action to support this policy change here.

Organizations supporting HB 81/SB 190, “Medicaid School-based Services":

United Ways of Florida

Florida Children’s Council

Florida PTA

Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics

Society of Health and Physical Educators Florida

Florida Voices for Health

Lupus and Allied Diseases Association

Florida ADAPT

National Association of Social Workers—Florida

Florida Health Justice Project

Catalyst Miami

FRIENDS Down Syndrome West Florida

Bend the Arc South Florida

Florida Impact

Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative


The Children’s Trust Miami Dade County

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