National Policy

National Policy

The federal government plays an important role in providing a policy environment that can support student health.

Current Agenda

Healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed in school. Schools also provide the ideal setting for combining national health and education goals for children. Yet current federal health and education policy miss several simple, vital opportunities to boost academic success through improving student health and school environments.

Our current agenda was developed during the 2016 Presidential Election and aimed to provide guidance for the incoming administration. Download “Healthy and Ready to Learn: Recommendations for the Next Administration” to learn more. HSC will be updating these recommendations in 2020.


School Health

Rates of chronic health problems among American children have doubled over the past 30 years, spurring chronic absenteeism, impairing students’ academic potential, and entrenching the minority achievement gap. That is why it is important for U.S. schools to increase access to school-based health providers—including physicians, nurses, social workers and psychologists—in order to reach underserved children and support youth health.

HSC recommends federal officials:

  • Establish and fund a National Commission for Advancing School Health Services convened by the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The commission would align education and health policies and practices to support school health services, set minimum standards for healthcare provision in schools, and build the capacity of state and local officials to increase access to school health services.
  • Redefine and expand the role of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students to fully integrate health and wellness into federal education policy.

Education Policy

Passage of the federal bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 empowered states to more fully integrate health and wellness into their education policies. It did so by requiring states to track school-level rates of chronic absenteeism as a proxy for student health, authorizing states to include health evaluations in statewide school accountability systems, and providing funding that can be used to support health services in low-performing schools. But many states have not yet capitalized on these new opportunities. Strong federal leadership is required to ensure ESSA meets its potential to support student health and learning.

HSC recommends federal officials:

  • Develop robust guidelines to help states and school districts conduct health needs assessments, identify evidence-based interventions, create early warning systems using absenteeism data, leverage extant funding to improve student health, build health sector partnerships, and establish professional development programs.

Healthy and Green Schools

All students should be able to attend schools with safe and healthy environments that support learning and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the ED reports that 42 percent of U.S. schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition, ranging from poor air quality to unsafe drinking water to schoolyards without greenspace. These hazards and deficiencies exacerbate health problems, which lead to absenteeism and poor academic performance. Low-income communities of color have disproportionately higher rates of environmental hazards.

HSC recommends federal officials:

  • Include school construction and maintenance in any federal infrastructure investment. Or, establish and fund the Healthy and High Performing School Fund to support construction and modernization of schools and green schoolyards, targeting low-income communities.
  • Fully fund federal programs that enable states, schools and communities to support healthy schools.
  • Develop environmental standards for protecting student health and require schools to meet them.

School Food

One in six U.S. schoolchildren live in food-insecure households, and many consume more than half their meals at school. At the same time, childhood obesity rates have been increasing for decades. That is why it is important to ensure that all students have access to healthy and nutritious meals at school.

HSC recommends federal officials:

  • Fully support providing healthy, nutritious school food to all children by implementing the Child Nutrition Act and continuing to build public and political support for a strong meal program.
  • Support local sustainable food systems and ensure they’re linked with schools.
  • Invest in high quality professional development and training for school food service workers.