By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
The CFT is launching a new legislative effort called Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds to ensure that all of California’s K-12 schools have a nurse and mental health professional, and a credentialed librarian in an open library during and after school.
While Proposition 30 has helped our public schools, five years of devastating budget cuts have eliminated services essential to keep students healthy and able to learn. Today, few public schools have full-time nurses, mental health professionals or even functioning libraries.
Poor and working class parents struggling to make ends meet have fewer healthcare resources and, unlike more affluent parents, are less able to subsidize services ravaged by cuts.
The consequences for our students are profound:
• Public school children with asthma often go untreated, causing higher absenteeism. In 2007, school-aged children in California missed approximately 1.6 million days of school due to asthma.
Today those numbers are likely to go higher.
• A quarter of a million students who need glasses don’t get them because they don’t get eye exams.
• Students suffering from epileptic seizures or needing insulin injections cannot count on a nurse at school to administer medication. The Legislature and the courts have placed responsibility for administering these drugs with teachers and classified employees.
• The epidemic of teenage suicide and abusive bullying calls out for mental health professionals, yet for most public schools these positions are luxuries.
Even the fixation on raising test scores has not translated into the resources necessary to keep libraries open and trained librarians on staff. The national focus on market-based reforms has shaped local district budgeting. This fetish has resulted in putting more resources into test preparation and easily quantifiable subjects like math and science, to the impoverishment of other vital subjects like art, music and physical education.
Our Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds campaign will galvanize a broad coalition of educators, healthcare and children’s advocacy groups, literacy advocates, civil rights and community-based organizations. It can link K-12 and higher education by bolstering the nursing programs in our community colleges.
Clearly the state will need additional funding to make this a reality. We are looking at possible funding options including the oil severance tax and lowering the threshold for change of ownership on commercial property. We will gauge interest in such a campaign. As we did with the Millionaires Tax, we will consider polling to assess public support for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds concept.
We educators and parents know that our students are not widgets to be pushed along the assembly line of public education. We can and must work to ensure that our schools have the personnel to keep students healthy and provide ready access to the vast knowledge contained in libraries. As we have done so often in the past, the CFT can help make that a reality.