Senior Policy Analyst
School superintendents confirm Medicaid’s key role in schools, especially for children with disabilities. In a recent survey of 1,000 superintendents, 57 percent of districts reported that they’d have trouble meeting special education mandates without Medicaid funding. That’s just one of the ways that Medicaid helps schools and children. Without Medicaid funding to cover health care costs for Medicaid-eligible children, many schools would have to cut positions and programs, not just in health care but in general education as well.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that children with disabilities have access to public education in the least restrictive environment based on their individual needs, which for some children means getting the health care services, like speech and physical therapy, they need to get an effective education. Federal IDEA funding isn’t adequate to meet the special education needs of children with disabilities, but IDEA requires schools to prioritize special education over general education. Medicaid helps schools fulfill IDEA requirements by reimbursing schools for health care services they provide to Medicaid-eligible children. Moreover, Medicaid helps mitigate potential cuts to schools’ general education budgets to pay for their special education programs. Without Medicaid, the survey revealed, 29 percent of districts would have to cut general education positions and programs.
Medicaid also helps schools provide important health services such as vision and dental screening to Medicaid-eligible children to help ensure that they succeed in life (see figure). Some 32 percent of superintendents said that without Medicaid’s help, their districts couldn’t provide important screenings and preventive services covered under Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment benefit, and 36 percent said that they would be forced to reduce mental health services and providers.
Medicaid also provides support for health care services delivered in school that benefit all children — not just those in Medicaid. That’s because Medicaid helps pay the salaries of school nurses, counselors, and other health care professionals. Without Medicaid funding, 25 percent of surveyed districts reported, they would have to cut these positions, harming all students. These positions are particularly important in light of the rising number of children affected by the opioid epidemic. Medicaid helps schools pay for costs associated with a rise in the number of children in special education programs and in need of mental health services because of opioid-related issues. Medicaid also supports school efforts to train nurses and other staff in drug intervention strategies. Of surveyed districts, 16 percent said that they couldn’t provide these services to students affected by the opioid epidemic without their Medicaid dollars.
Many schools also help enroll eligible children in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program and connect them to other health care services and providers. Medicaid reimburses schools for their outreach and enrollment activities, which helps both students and schools. In the recent superintendent’s survey, 25 percent said that their districts would have to limit or end efforts to enroll children in Medicaid if schools lose their Medicaid funding.