Illinois Policy

Illinois Policy

Clear support and leadership from the state can empower schools and educators to ensure all schools can support the health needs of Illinois’ students.

Current Agenda

Schools are the ideal setting for combining state health and education goals for all children. Illinois has a number of important opportunities to enact new policies and alter existing ones to ensure children are given the best chance to learn and thrive.

These recommendations were developed during the 2018 Illinois Gubernatorial Election. Download “Healthy and Ready to Learn: Recommendations for Illinois’ Governor” to learn more.

Education Policy

The 2015 bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) overhauled federal education policy in a way that empowered each state to integrate health and wellness into its education strategy and accountability systems. Illinois can leverage that opportunity through targeted investments that that address school-related health problems. Illinois ranks 29th among states in rates of student chronic absenteeism, an indicator of unmanaged health conditions.

HSC recommends Illinois officials:

  • Establish statewide definitions regarding chronic absenteeism and create state guidelines, tools and data-tracking processes to help school districts address the health-related causes of absenteeism.
  • Update physical education policies to require 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for secondary school students.
  • Update school needs assessments and improvement plans to include health and wellness indicators.
  • Issue guidelines outlining ESSA funding available to support health and wellness services.
  • Promote policies to eliminate unlawful discrimination in school discipline.
  • Continue to support implementation of Illinois’ social and emotional learning standards.
  • Enact legislation prohibiting school districts from arming educators.

School Health Services

Increasing access to school health services is critical to reaching underserved children. The 2014 reversal of a federal policy known as the Free Care Rule allowed schools to receive Medicaid reimbursement for eligible healthcare provided to any Medicaid-enrolled student. That has paved the way for some schools to expand health services. But Illinois has not amended its Medicaid policies to benefit from this opportunity.

HSC recommends Illinois officials:

  • Submit a State Plan Amendment to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reverse the Free Care Rule in the Illinois Medicaid Plan. Once the amendment is approved, update Illinois’ school district billing guide. Require new Medicaid reimbursement revenue supplement school health services, not supplant existing ones.
  • Require Medicaid managed care organizations to coordinate care with Local Educational Agencies and health care providers. Develop policies for sharing student health data. Support partnerships between education and health sectors.
  • Ensure schools are adequately staffed with trained health service providers. Support schools in implementing evidence-base health interventions.

Healthy School Foods

Investing in healthy school meals supports education by boosting students’ cognitive function and focus, particularly for the many children who consume at least half their meals at school. In 2010, Congress reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act with a bill called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The law authorized the USDA to align school meal nutrition standards with the latest science-based dietary guidelines – an endeavor in which Illinois can become a leader.

HSC recommends Illinois officials:

  • Uphold the school food nutritional requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Continued improvements for reducing sodium and increasing whole grains. Develop guidelines for school districts to implement high-nutrition standards.
  • Staff the vacant Farm to School Network Program Director position at the Illinois Department of Agriculture to foster procurement of healthy, locally-sourced foods in schools. Update the Invitation for Bid (IFB) process to allow objective consideration of vendors who incorporate higher-quality and locally-sourced food.
  • Increase Breakfast After the Bell participation rates.
  • Increase state funding for school meal reimbursement.
  • Support policies and programs for zero-waste schools.
  • Support ongoing outreach to families regarding school meal programs.
  • Uphold Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) standards and encourage partial district participation.

Healthy School Environment

The physical environments in which children spend their time have a profound impact on their health and ability to learn. Illinois has several opportunities to cultivate healthy school environments through investments in green and sustainable infrastructure, operations, and outdoor spaces. HSC recommends Illinois officials:

  • Create a one-stop shop of information and resources for schools to create healthy environments and ensure compliance with Illinois regulations.
  • Review and assess existing green cleaning laws.
  • Expand the Illinois School Code to require schools to create and implement comprehensive Indoor Air Quality management plans.
  • Require ongoing lead testing in water and set guidelines for addressing identified problems.
  • Adopt state standards for healthy school construction and renovation.
  • Develop a program to expand the development of green schoolyards.
  • Support the use of electric school buses. Enact a policy restricting school bus idling. Improve the Safe Routes to School Program.