One in four children in the United States has chronic physical or mental health issues that affect their ability to succeed in the classroom, double the number just 30 years ago.
These health issues, which include anxiety, vision and hearing deficits, and lack of dental care, can have a significant impact on children’s long-term health as well as their opportunities to learn.
Left untreated or undermanaged, they can adversely affect children’s attendance, their ability to see, hear and pay attention in the classroom, their ability and motivation to learn, their academic performance, and even their chances of graduating from high school.
Students in underserved communities, particularly students of color, are at increased risk of chronic health problems such as diabetes and asthma that can hinder learning. Ignoring these health inequities will undermine efforts to close the opportunity gap.
Health professionals increasingly have recognized schools as the ideal setting to achieve many fundamental healthcare objectives: early prevention, disease management, reducing per-capita healthcare costs, reducing emergency room usage and improving overall quality of care.
Schools also offer an invaluable opportunity to provide primary healthcare treatment to vulnerable and underserved populations. These factors have made schools the frontline in improving children’s health outcomes.
Many school districts historically have lacked adequate staffing to meet basic student health needs — at least half of all public schools don’t have a dedicated school nurse or counselor, let alone the number of providers needed to address health issues related to isolation, decreased family income and COVID-related family illness or death.
This makes it more urgent than ever for states to leverage education, Medicaid and public health funding to ensure schools have an adequate number of health providers in place.