Additional federal dollars will be available for mental health treatment, hiring of school nurses, and more under new law
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida schools will be able to draw down at least $51 million more in federal dollars for school-based health services — including mental health screenings, diagnoses, and treatment — under legislation (CS/HB 81) signed into law last night by Governor Ron DeSantis, 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 federal policy changes allow schools to receive matching federal dollars for school-based health services provided to any Medicaid-eligible child, implementation of these changes were not automatic, as pointed out in an FPI report. Florida law, which limited the federal match to just those services for children with disabilities who had an individual education plan, needed to be updated.
“Schools are on the front lines of educating children and their families on how to protect themselves and their communities during public health crises,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “Additionally, school-based services are 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. FPI would like to thank Rep. Andrade, Sen. Montford, Sen. Harrell, the legislation’s other co-sponsors, and all of our coalition partners that helped to pass this critical legislation.”
“I’m excited to see that HB 81 has been signed into law,” said bill sponsor Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola). “Thousands of children in Florida will be able to receive the treatment they need in their school, without facing the choice of missing classes or foregoing services.”
“I hear firsthand from families in the panhandle still reeling from Hurricane Michael and now the Coronavirus Pandemic; they are in desperate need of resources to address the long term mental health effects,” said bill sponsor Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee). “This change in law is common sense and provides school districts with another tool to reach students statewide. Thanks to this legislation schools will be able to provide increased medical and, particularly, mental health services directly to children that need it most.”
“Florida Impact was proud to partner with Florida Policy Institute and others to support this measure, which will increase access to school-based health services," said Trudy Novicki, president/CEO of Florida Impact. “So many more children will have a change to thrive and succeed because of these additional resources.”
“I am incredibly proud of the legislative work that was needed to move the Medicaid in Schools bill to the Governor’s desk. United Way of Florida is a strong supporter of the Florida Policy Institute and a strong advocate for the children who will benefit from this piece of legislation,” said Rick Owen, president of United Way of Florida.
“Today is a great day for children in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Danielle Thomas, legislation chair of Florida PTA. “The signing into law of the Medicaid school-based services bill will help ensure that we meet the health and safety needs of more children by providing greater access to resources.”
“There are clear and obvious connections between health care and education,” said Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health. “This is a great opportunity for Florida to address health outcomes in our most vulnerable communities through a social determinants lens.”
“School based health services are a critical tool for bringing health care to kids where they are,” said Alison Yager, director of policy advocacy at Florida Health Justice Project. “Doing so makes it more likely that kids will receive needed care. Bringing more money into this system means more opportunities to serve kids.”
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.