Why Health and Wellness is Important—Even in the Face of Budget Cuts

March 08, 2016

On a good day, the job of a principal in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is challenging. And, given the financial challenges facing the district, most days are even more challenging.

Just last month, the district announced mid-year budget cuts—totaling $85 million through the end of the year. These cuts forced principals to rework their plans for the remainder of the school year.

One of the schools hit by a budget cut was Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Dana Butler is the principal there and serves on our Fit to Learn Principal Advisory Board. Fit to Learn is a professional development program that makes healthy habits part of how kids learn and engages teachers and principals in prioritizing health and wellness in the classroom and throughout the school.

Just a few weeks ago, Butler was a speaker at our 10th Annual Principals’ Breakfast and gave a powerful testimonial about the important connection between student health and learning and the important role schools play in supporting student wellness. Ruiz Elementary recently found out it achieved Level 1 status—the second highest of five ratings according to CPS’ School Quality Rating Policy. Butler attributes that success to his focus on health and wellness.

But these mid-year cuts will force many principals to make some hard choices throughout the rest of the school year. Often these hard decisions look like making the choice between art or recess or hiring a librarian or a physical education teacher. “We do this work for the children, we do this work for the community, and we do the best we can,” Butler says. “But we can do so much better if we’re given adequate resources to do health and wellness in our schools.”

Butler says he can manage with what he has right now, but questions if that’s enough: “Is that doing right by our schools?”

With the kind of budget crisis facing CPS, hard decisions are unavoidable. But supporting the health and wellness of our students needs to be a priority because it affects every aspect of students’ lives. CPS students—more than 85 percent of whom are low-income and 85 percent of whom are students of color—are at an increased risk for health conditions that affect their ability to learn.

Research continues to document what parents and teachers know: Healthy students are better prepared to learn. Healthy children are better prepared to live happy, productive lives. The reality is that schools must prioritize student health and wellness issues in order to achieve their core goal of educating students—even during times of budgetary crisis. We hope local, city and state leaders can come together to do what’s best for our schools.