Medicaid Cuts Threaten Student Learning, School District Finances

Medicaid protects Georgia’s children. Nearly half of our children, or 1.3 million, are able to go to a doctor and access other health care services through Medicaid benefits. This helps them stay healthy and in the classroom so they can keep up with schoolwork. The proposed cuts to Medicaid contained in the American Health Care Act could keep them out of school and undermine their learning. The cuts would also force many school districts to look elsewhere to cover costs for some special education students. Georgia’s districts now lack the resources to fill this gap. School districts already face a financial squeeze after years of state underfunding and cost shifting.

Children served by Medicaid are from low-income and working-poor families. They face more health risks than children from families with higher incomes including:

  • Increased likelihood of chronic illnesses, including asthma and diabetes
  • Higher chance of undiagnosed and untreated vision problems
  • Greater likelihood of exposure to lead and other environmental toxins that can impair development and cause illnesses
  • Increased risk of injuries due to unsafe housing and play areas and other factors

These obstacles can keep children out of school and hamper their ability to learn. Medicaid allows their families to tackle these problems, but the proposed cuts will take benefits away from some children and reduce services available to the ones who still get them. The result? Students will miss more class and learn less. That leads to lower reading skills, more behavioral problems and higher risk of dropping out.

School teachers and other staff members already strain to meet the extra needs of low-income students. They take on the wide range of challenges of educating children with less access to high quality childcare, after-school and summer programs, lower levels of parent engagement, food insecurity, unstable housing arrangements, and greater likelihood of mental health problems. The proposed Medicaid cuts would pile on to these problems.

Many districts will also lose money used to cover services special education students need, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and medical equipment. Federal law requires districts to provide these services, so the cost shifts but doesn’t go away. Georgia’s public schools are already coping with financial challenges. The state is sending districts $167 million less than it is supposed to under its K-12 funding formula in the 2018 budget. Georgia is also underfunding its student transportation formula, leaving districts on the hook for most of the state-mandated cost of busing students to and from school safely. The state shifted $430 million in health insurance costs to districts in recent years when it eliminated funding for health insurance for bus drivers, custodians and other non-teaching staff. Districts already required to go through several rounds of belt-tightening might be forced to reallocate money from other programs and students or raise local taxes if Medicaid’s piece of the financial puzzle shrinks on top.

The proposed Medicaid benefit cuts are a bad omen for Georgia’s children. State leaders are making boosting student achievement a central strategy to improve the quality of life of all Georgians. Developing a skilled workforce that bolsters Georgia’s economic future is a key part of that vision. Georgia will not get there by undermining children’s health.

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