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Another opportunity on school-based health centers

Last year, we at Voices for Children watched with disapointment as Governor Heineman vetoed a bill to provide grants to help with the start-up costs of new school-based health centers.  The bill failed to garner enough votes to have the veto overidden.  Today, LB 275 will receive a hearing before the Education Committee and the Legislature will have another opportunity to support school-based health centers.

School-based health centers are just what the name implies: a health center housed within a school. It’s a concept that takes the idea of a school nurse and expands it to allow kids, regardless of their insurance statues, to get more comprehensive care when and where they need it. Students can be treated for acute illnesses, such as flu, and chronic conditions, including asthma and diabetes. They can also be screened for dental, vision and hearing problems.  The centers emphasize prevention and early intervention, which can also mean a more cost-effective use of health care dollars for kids who might otherwise end up in an emergency room.

The Governor’s rationale for the veto was along the lines of something he’s said before.  That somehow the two issues — children’s health and education — are in competition for funding, and we can’t afford both.

If our state is to compete in the future, we are going to have to stop seeing education as existing in a vacuum.  It’s not only about what happens in the classroom between the hours of 8am and 3pm Monday through Friday.  It’s about what happens to children before they even reach school age and about what happens to them at home.  A kid who is hungry isn’t in the right frame of mind to learn.  And a kid who is sick needs to get better before he can fully participate in school.

Schools can’t be expected to meet of all of children’s needs, but there are simple things we can do improve attendance and educational outcomes that are inexpensive and contribute to better outcomes for kids overall. School-based health centers are a bold and innovative idea that brings health care to kids where they are and makes sure that kids with barriers to health access are able to get it.  This is very much an education issue and we hope that the Legislature and the Governor will give LB 275 consideration this year.

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