Health Care at School Can Bring Equity to Our Youth

Author Details

Serena Clayton

Executive Director
Organization: California School-Based Health Alliance

Go to California School-Based Health Alliance

California is a land of contrasts – especially for its youth. African American males in our state – the world’s 8th largest economy – are 18 times more likely to die from homicide than are their white peers. African American and Latina teen girls are three times more likely to have a baby than their White or Asian counterparts. African Americans are 40 percent more likely to have asthma than Whites and their death rate from asthma is two times higher.

Despite their health needs being greater, these communities have limited access to services. We know that African American and Latino youth in low-income communities are exposed to high levels of violence and stress, but only one in 10 who needs mental health services ever receives them.

These disparities in health are connected to similar disparities in education. On one hand, health issues impact students’ ability to learn. By the same token, educational attainment is a strong predictor of health outcomes across a lifespan. California had one of the top performing educational systems in the country until we reduced funding with Proposition 13 in 1978. Now we are 40th out of 50 states in educational spending. We have the largest class sizes in the country and the fewest counselors and librarians per student. A quarter of our young people do not graduate from high school in four years.

Our state has 2,000 schools with concentrated levels of poverty, where over 75% of the students qualify for free lunch. In these schools, the connection between health and educational success is very clear: When children come to school without breakfast, with dental decay, or with uncorrected vision, they are not ready to learn. 

How do these inequalities impact educational outcomes? If you are upper income Asian or White, your chances of graduating from high school in four years are over 90 percent. If you are low-income, African American or Latino, your chances are closer to 70 percent. Shockingly, if you are a Black male teenager, your chances of going to prison are greater than your chances of graduating from college.

Schools are the most universal institution, and as lacking as our educational system may seem, it is still the best vehicle to build equity among all communities. School-based health centers, school mental health programs, school nurses, and school counselors are a vital support structure for ensuring that children get health care and come to school ready to learn. 

You can join us in San Diego April 30-May 1 to learn more about how school-based health care is Advancing Equity in Education & Health Care. Health practitioners, educators, and children’s advocates from across the state will be presenting about the latest investments in school-based health that are giving all children a chance to succeed.