UPDATED: Educators urge senators to reject health care bill threatening to harm nation’s most vulnerable students

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by Brian Washington

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(BREAKING NEWS: Just as we went to press with this story, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he was pulling the bill.)

Alaska educator Philip Walters teaches band at a middle school where the majority of his kids—upwards of 95 percent–qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“I teach at a Title I school,” said Walters, who works in the Anchorage School District, the largest in the state. “My school has one of the highest poverty rates in the district.”

Title I schools receive additional federal funding to ensure that students, mired in poverty, have an equal shot at academic success. But that success, according to Walters, is put in jeopardy when students from low-income families don’t have access to health care.

“Any sort of income the family has, which usually isn’t much, goes towards health care or medicine,” said Walters. “And they can’t cover the expenses that might come up in relation to day-to-day life. The only meals the kids get are at school, and if they are sick, they can’t come to school or if they do, they get other kids sick.”

Alaska educator Philip Walters

This is why Walters called Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski over the weekend and urged her to vote against the Graham-Cassidy “replacement” for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If approved, this legislation will deprive millions of children of the health care they need to learn, thrive and grow.

This new and supposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act is basically going to take away all the protections for the families that need it the most, and those are my kids.

Three Republican senators have already publicly stated they are voting against the bill and Murkowski is reportedly leaning towards a “no” vote as well. With Democrats voting in unison against the bill and three Republican “no” votes, that should be enough to kill it, but at this point, we can’t take anything for granted, especially since senate leaders are moving forward with a vote anyway.

Last week, the National Education Association, which represents three million educators nationwide, sent a letter to Hill lawmakers on behalf of the 50 million students served by its members. It outlined educators’ concerns—including how the bill would cut funding for Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for 40 percent of all children and 60 percent of all children with disabilities.

“Health care costs in Alaska are ridiculous right now, and they are going to get worse if this health care bill goes through,” said Walters. “We expanded Medicaid, and if this goes through, that expansion is going to go away, and the people that were helped by it will be left without anything.”

He adds losing Medicaid-expansion funding could force states like Alaska to make up the difference with money it would otherwise use for education.

“They (lawmakers) are already saying we don’t have enough funding for schools as it is,” said Walters. “So if this bill is approved and becomes law, things are going to get a lot worse.”

TAKE ACTION: Contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to vote “NO” on Graham-Cassidy.

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