Children’s Health: A Cornerstone for Learning

By Erin Schelar, Research and Evaluation Manager, School-Based Health Alliance

Education Commission of the States Report, August 2015Health barriers to learning and the education opportunity gap,” a new report from the Education Commission of the States, highlights the importance of children’s health as a cornerstone of their readiness to learn and reach their full potential in school, as well as drive effective school reform. The report’s findings and recommendations serve as valuable resources for the school-based health care field to advance our policy agenda and advocacy efforts. The report also provides language to forge relationships with education administrators and teachers. The report emphasized three main takeaways:

  • Health barriers to learning affect millions of American youth, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority youth.
  • Health care in schools is not a panacea for improving academic achievement among America’s most vulnerable children, but it is an underutilized and highly promising strategy to help children break out of the cycle of poverty by increasing access to educational opportunity.
  • Rising health care costs threaten America’s economic security, and low levels of fitness and high levels of obesity threaten America’s military readiness. These are additional rationales for schools to address student health.

The authors discuss the expansion of school-based health centers (SBHCs), but lament that they still serve a small percentage of schools. The lack of accountability and metrics for school health represents a challenge, but our School Health Services National Quality Initiative presents an opportunity to link school health with academics. Steps in the right direction could include alignment with educational metrics—such  as chronic absenteeism—and advocacy for inclusion of health criteria as part of school evaluation.

While research supporting the link between health and educational success is a critical component of making the case to policymakers and education stakeholders, translating that research into concrete policy changes relies on conveying the importance of school health as it relates to school reform, key trends, and insight. In particular, state affiliates and program offices can play a key role in advancing funding and resources for school health services. SBHC providers, sponsors, families, communities, legislators, and media should be involved in advocating for programs that focus on students and bridge the education and health sectors. The school-based health care field can use this report to highlight why SBHCs matter to students and communities, use language that speaks to the education field to form strategic partnerships, and inform their priorities in building momentum for school-based health.


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