Obamacare Hubs Coming to the Nation's Schools

By Susan Jones | May 10, 2012 | 10:18am EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - As the U.S. Supreme Court mulls the constitutionality of the Democrats' Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to pour millions of dollars into "school-based health centers."

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that $75 million in taxpayer money is available to build and renovate health clinics inside schools.

School-based health centers are an important part of the nation’s health care safety net, the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday in its funding announcement. HHS says the centers will let children with acute or chronic illnesses attend school; and they will improve the overall health and wellness of children through health screenings, health promotion and disease-prevention activities.

"By making the connection to health care easy, school-based health centers ensure that children have access to the services they need to lead healthy lives," the announcement said.

Healthy children do better at school, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: "Whether establishing a new site or upgrading an existing facility, the availability of funding for school-based health centers that we’re announcing today will help kids more easily get the health services they need to thrive,” she added.

The Democrats' Affordable Care Act appropriated $200 million for the School-Based Health Center Capital Program, and the $75 million announced on Wednesday is the third in a series of awards available to school-based health centers.

A greater federal role in schools

Sebelius made the $75-million funding announcement at an event where two health advocacy groups, the Healthy Schools Campaign and the Trust for America’s Health, released policy recommendations on how to incorporate health and wellness into the nation’s schools.

The recommendations, presented to Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, envision a greater federal role in make health part of the academic curriculum.

According to the Healthy Schools Campaign, the recommendations “reflect a new approach to making health and wellness part of the school experience. This means that wellness is not relegated to an occasional health lesson or physical education class—it is part of math, science, lunch and everything in between. It means providing teachers with professional development related to children’s physical and emotional development, and integrating health into every subject, reward system and classroom management strategy.

“Achieving this ultimate vision will require leadership and commitment at many levels, from classrooms to Washington, D.C.”

Among the recommendations:

-- Increase the Department of Education’s capacity to provide leadership and guidance on integrating health and wellness into schools as a way to improve academic performance.

-- Re-think the role schools can play in our nation’s prevention efforts and the ways that HHS can support schools in creating the conditions for health.

-- Provide schools with strategies to “partner with parents as agents of change” for integrating health and wellness into education.

-- Train principals and teachers to promote student health and wellness and to identify and address student health issues.

-- Create health and wellness recognition programs to motivate schools to adopt practices that promote student health and wellness.

-- Have schools track health and wellness data, which would be used to make “data-driven decisions” about how health and wellness impact student learning.

“[T]hese recommendations represent a major culture shift in how the nation views health – health will no longer be separated from education, transportation, housing and other clearly connected policies,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health.

At Wednesday’s event in Washington, union leaders representing the nation’s teachers voiced support for prioritizing health in schools.

“The link between student health and student achievement is not theoretical—it is a fact.” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Yes, there are many educational and academic issues that we need to address. But making schools better also means that we must create environments that provide steady support for health and good nutrition.”

“Our members work with students every day whose health and school conditions impede their ability to learn," said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. "That’s why NEA members are taking the lead to advocate for school and learning conditions that result in a higher level of student engagement and fewer absences."

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