Last week, a conservative think-tank proclaimed that a risk of expanding Medicaid is that the funding could eventually put the K-12 public schools budget at risk if federal Medicaid funding falls short, forcing the state to take on the costs.
While issues surrounding Medicaid dollars are not unfamiliar to Idaho’s public school districts and charter schools, the question of expanding Medicaid to the gap population does not give belly aches to education stakeholders in Idaho. School districts heavily rely on Medicaid dollars to pay for medical services for qualified special education children. Just last year, Gov. Otter signed an executive order requiring stakeholders to come together to see that Idaho has a school-based Medicaid program that is efficient, cost-effective and expeditious in order to benefit the best interests of Idaho’s public schools, taxpayers and their special needs students.
Contrary to the critic’s speculation, there is evidence that Medicaid expansion could support our public schools.
By rebalancing the tax and financial burdens, the state of Idaho could eliminate the need to appropriate upwards of $20 million per year to the CAT Fund. Since the CAT fund only pays a portion of unpaid indigent care, further expenses are paid with locally approved bonds or levies. It is projected that taxpayers could see a savings of $173.4 million over a 10-year period.
This type of savings at the local level could be monumental for school districts — particularly in rural areas. Passing a bond or supplemental levy has become increasingly difficult despite the continued reliance on those funds to meet various academic needs.
Studies show that a population with robust access to health care has increased chances for success. Student achievement is the primary goal of our public education system. Having a parent or guardian whose health is poor could have an impact on a student’s opportunities. Decreased academic performance, spotty or intermittent attendance, increased dropout rates, more serious behavioral problems and an overall negative and long-lasting effect on their cognitive skills and attitudes are all potential byproducts of poor health of a student’s family member. Healthy families are essential to a student’s academic success.
A state’s investments in education and health care should complement each other, not be pitted against one another. It is deceptive to suggest that by voting in favor of the Medicaid ballot initiative the funding for public schools could be jeopardized. Idaho communities need equitable access to health care and well-funded public schools to thrive.
Written by Karen Echeverria, the executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, and Quinn Perry, the ISBA’s policy and government affairs director.