NEA, labor coalition fight for student health in budget battle

School nurse bandaging student

by Colleen Flaherty

With the fiscal cliff looming, congressional lawmakers are scrambling to come to agreement on a deficit reduction plan. But in trying to avoid the cliff’s 8 percent across-the-board cuts, many vital programs may be in jeopardy, including programs such as Medicaid that help the most vulnerable citizens.

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According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all Medicaid enrollees are children. One in three children in the United States uses services provided by Medicaid. Better health for students leads to better performance in school, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Wilfred Dunn has been a teacher in Little Rock, Ark., for 17 years in one of the city’s poorest areas and is a diligent advocate for accessible health care.

Educator Wil Dunn speaking at D.C. health care rally in March.

“Almost all of my students are part of working families without health coverage, so they depend on Medicaid for their health care,” said Dunn.

At the elementary school where Dunn teaches, he has seen what can happen when his students don’t receive proper medical treatment. Either they stay sick longer and miss school, or they are in school feeling sick and not learning. One student not receiving care can affect an entire classroom, said Dunn.

“Before we educate these students’ minds, we have to make sure their bodies are healthy. Health care and education are invariably linked in the classroom.”



Virginia version of new labor coalition ad

As a federal program, Medicaid is a lean program with no administrative excess and no room to cut provider payments, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 2010, more than 96 percent of federal Medicaid spending paid for health and long-term care, not administrative costs and overhead.

If cut, the cost of Medicaid would be passed on to the states, many of which have recovering economies. Since most states could not afford to replace these funds, there would be deep cuts to services instead, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The National Education Association is part of a labor coalition working on behalf of its members and students to protect public education and crucial federal funding for programs like Medicaid. Television and radio ads produced by NEA, SEIU and AFSCME will run in five states where members of Congress can make a difference: Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Alaska.

The ad, customized for each locale, reinforces the idea that Congress must work to rebuild the economy from the middle class out — by creating jobs, not cutting programs on which working families rely so that tax breaks for millionaires can continue.

“Members of Congress have to ask themselves who should make the bigger sacrifice — America’s school children and middle class families or corporations and wealthy CEOs? Are they looking out to preserve middle class tax cuts for hard working men and women, or tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy?” asked Mary Kusler, director of NEA Government Relations.

“It makes no sense to rob Peter to pay Paul, especially when Peter is a five-year-old who simply is trying to learn in school. It’s short-sighted.”

Dunn agrees. “Medicaid is an investment in health care and education for children like my students. These children, like children everywhere, deserve a real opportunity at success. Their future should not be predetermined by disadvantages beyond their control.”


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