Budget Cuts Fall on Low-Income Students in Louisiana

Posted by: Tim Mathis

Governor Jindal’s FY2012 Executive Budget recommends slashing $2.4 million from School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs), clinics that provide access to health care in schools for lower-income students. That’s a 100 percent cut from the State General Fund, approximately one-third of state funding for SBHCs in Louisiana. They also receive about $7 million from tobacco settlement monies, and federal block grants; others are funded through public-private partnerships and charitable foundations. School-Based Health Centers have been operating in Louisiana since 1987. Today, there are at least 65 SBHCs across 28 parishes. In 2009 alone, SBHCs served nearly 50,000 students in underserved communities, with 140,000 patient visits. The budget cuts will force the closure of many of these clinics.

Based on data from the Office of Public Health, on average 78 percent of the students are considered “at-risk” in schools where SBHCs are located. Those students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch—and are more at risk for underperforming academically, or dropping out of school. To qualify for the federal free lunch program, students must come from households with incomes of 130 percent or less of the poverty level. That’s less than $30,000 per year for a family of four. Many of the students served by SBHCs come from families without reliable transportation and parents who are unable to take time from work to care for a sick child.

There have been numerous studies on the correlation between SBHCs and academic performance. According to the Louisiana Assembly on School-Based Health Centers, clinics in low-income schools reduce absenteeism by half and tardiness by 25 percent. By treating children on an individual basis, health care professionals are able to identify illnesses early, manage chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, and prevent costly visits to emergency rooms. The clinics are also staffed with social workers who provide counseling and expertise in mental health issues—a significant concern for children who grow up in poverty.

This is a prime example of how the Governor’s cuts-only approach will further marginalize the most vulnerable members of our communities.

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