School Health Is Key in TFAH’s Plan for Healthier Nation

October 19, 2016

The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released today its Blueprint for a Healthier America 2016: Policy Priorities for the Next Administration and Congress, which provides recommendations to the next administration. More than 160 organizations—including Healthy Schools Campaign—have signed on to TFAH’s recommendations.

“It’s time for a sea change from our current sick care system to a true health system, where we focus on preventing disease and improving quality of life,” said Richard Hamburg, Interim CEO and President of TFAH. “In the Blueprint, we highlight high-impact policies that could help spare millions of Americans from preventable health problems and save billions in avoidable healthcare costs—if we make them a priority.”

We were pleased to see school health included for the first time ever in this important document. The section on school health addresses many of the major challenges facing our nation’s schools, including chronic absenteeism, obesity and chronic health conditions. TFAH recommends the next administration:

    • Prioritize a healthy, positive school climate: Schools can conduct needs assessments and adopt wellness plans to identify school or community specific concerns and the best strategies for addressing them. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also provides new opportunities to support district and/or school health improvement and health-related professional development.
    • Support safe, clean and health-promoting school buildings: The next administration should ensure that school buildings are well-maintained, regularly cleaned in ways that promote health, have good air quality, have quality recreation spaces for indoor and outdoor physical activity and reduce truancy and suspensions among others.
    • Increase early identification and provide support for concerns: Identifying concerns early and connecting children with care or support can help prevent, mitigate or effectively manage issues. School systems can ensure at-risk students are screened for physical, behavioral and mental health concerns and special education needs. In addition, tracking chronic absenteeism is an important way to help identify physical, emotional or behavioral health or family concerns.
    • Prevent and reduce health risks: Districts and schools can partner with state-based expert institutes to conduct needs assessments; match effective, evidence-based policy and program choices to specific community needs; ensure programs are implemented successfully by providing technical assistance and access to learning networks; train and support professionals from different sectors; conduct regular evaluations; support sustainability; and enhance continuous quality improvement.
    • Expand obesity prevention by promoting better nutrition and increasing physical activity before, during and after school: Schools should improve access to healthy, affordable breakfast, lunch and snacks and provide increased opportunities to be physically active during the school day. There are a number of innovative programs to promote nutrition and activity, such as increasing access to free- and reduced-meals for all students at low-income schools, offering flexible breakfast options, increasing access to summer meals, having shared-use policies making school recreation spaces available to the community during non-school hours and ensuring facilities are safe and clean.
    • Ensure availability of safe, free drinking water: Only around 10 percent of schools with their own water systems are required to test for lead, and federal law does not require schools using local public water suppliers to test the water. Policies are needed to fill these lead-testing gaps to ensure all students are drinking safe, clean water.
    • Increase school health services—including mental, behavioral and oral health—and improve coordination across education, health and other social services: The free care rule has opened up an increased ability for Medicaid to pay for health services in schools. Other efforts include increasing the number and functions of school nurses, creating full on-site school-based health centers and bringing mobile health centers to schools. In addition, there are efforts to increase the availability and scope of mental health and behavioral health professionals within schools and/or referrals to systems of support.
    • Support and increase funding for Full Service Community Schools: A growing number of states and communities are deploying the community school model, effectively using public schools as hubs for community partners to offer a range of services and supports to students, families and communities. The U.S. Department of Education currently funds 21 grantees with $10 million. Expanded funding would help improve and scale this proven model to additional school sites across the country.

Many of these recommendations mirror Healthy Schools Campaign’s own recommendations for the next administration. Ensuring our students are healthy and ready to learn is key to ensuring the health and vitality of the American people. You can download the full Blueprint on TFAH’s website. And stay tuned for a blog series outlining our recommendations for the next administration.