Wisconsin Budget

Federal Medicaid Critical to Schools

State schools got $107 million in 2015, helped pay for school nurses.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - Apr 25th, 2017 11:51 am
Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Wisconsin schools have a lot at stake in the debate about federal support for Medicaid. Even though Wisconsin ranks 19th nationally in the size of its school-age population, our state ranks 7th highest in federal funding for Medicaid services provided by schools.

According to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin schools received more than $187 million for Medicaid services in 2015, including more than $107 million in federal Medicaid funds. That amount is higher than in all but six other states, despite the fact that Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in total Medicaid spending per child. These figures indicate that Wisconsin schools have done a good job of utilizing federal assistance to support school-based health services.

Medicaid provides health care for more than 1.1 million Wisconsinites, including about 500,000 children, but many people are unaware of its significance for schools. Medicaid funding pays for health care services for students with disabilities, and it covers vision and dental screenings provided in schools to Medicaid-eligible children. It also helps schools connect low-income children to other health care services that aren’t provided in schools, but are critical to a child’s development.

Sally Flaschberger, Lead Advocacy Specialist at Disability Rights Wisconsin, explained the importance of Medicaid for Wisconsin children, particularly those with disabilities:

Medicaid plays a very important role in supporting students in Wisconsin’s schools. Schools depend on these payments to help provide services like speech therapy, social work services, and personal care so students with disabilities can be successful at school.

House Republicans may attempt to bring up a health bill this week, the American Health Care Act, which would cut federal Medicaid funding by $839 billion over the next decade. In addition to putting health care at risk for millions of adults, these efforts would jeopardize critical health-related services for students and put an important source of funds for schools and states at risk.

Valerie Hon, President of the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses, commented on the significance of Medicaid in schools and the value of protecting it:

Without the support they get from Medicaid, some Wisconsin schools would struggle to afford keeping school nurses and other specialized instructional support personnel on staff, give students with disabilities the services they need and are entitled to receive, and provide basic screenings for Medicaid-eligible children. Policymakers in Washington should protect Medicaid – not cut it.

According to the new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 68 percent of school superintendents reported earlier this year that they used Medicaid funding to keep school nurses, school counselors, speech therapists, and other health professionals on staff.

The proposed changes in health care spending would also have broader implications for schools. Medicaid cuts are likely to impede efforts to help schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education – which are all keys to helping all children thrive in school.

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