Health and education go hand-in-hand, as any teacher can tell you.
My fifth grade student Annie, who was absent due to illness for over a third of the school year, ended up losing so much ground that she had to repeat the year.
Students who suffer from chronic illness fall behind in school, while those students in school who are hungry or malnourished are unlikely to be able to focus on their studies. The ability to get healthcare is a huge deal for those students living in poverty – which means 16.4 million children, or 22 percent of all children, according to the 2010 Census. That’s a lot of children.
So how does today’s Supreme Court 5-4 decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act affect schools?
Since research shows health-care disparities help drive achievement gaps among students, it could mean a lot. Last year, public health experts argued in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease that health and education are “integrally linked” and educators and health officials should form stronger partnerships to improve high school graduation rates.
From Education Week:
“The reasons students drop out of school are complex, and health can be integrally related to many of these reasons, including barriers to learning such as hunger and poor nutrition and even fear for safety at school,” wrote authors led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Diane Allensworth. “Health problems contribute to absenteeism and, in turn, absenteeism as well as unintended pregnancy and delinquency are associated with dropping out of school.”
A 2010 study by Teachers College at Columbia University found medical problems like vision disabilities and asthma disproportionately affect poor and minority children, who are also less likely to have health insurance. The study found that health-related problems play a major role in limiting the motivation and ability to learn of urban minority youth, and interventions to address those problems can improve educational as well as health outcomes. Unsurprisingly, health disparities play a huge role in the educational achievement gap that plagues urban minority youth.
Finally, a study by the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) asked the question, “Can Health Insurance Reduce School Absenteeism?” The authors concluded that SCHIP has had a positive and significant effect on state average daily attendance rates: school absenteeism rates dropped as children’s health insurance rates rose under the program. With numerous studies showing that kids who graduate from high school do better overall in life than those who don’t, it’s clear that having insurance makes a huge difference.
And with 7,000 U.S. high school students dropping out every school day, the implications are enormous.
That’s why many of us teachers are cheering today, at the Supreme Court’s momentous decision to uphold President Obama’s Health Care Law, and especially the individual mandate.
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