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2010 National Forum on Community Schools

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Philadelphia, PA
April 7, 2010

Thanks, Dr. Guttman. It’s great to be here with so many champions for children.

Dr. Guttman is the head of one of the largest and most successful community schools in Philadelphia. She’s also a great advocate for education and one of our leading voices on how to explore new frontiers of science and medicine ethically and responsibly.

And we’re so glad she agreed to chair our new national Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

As many of you know, my father had a long career in Ohio politics, first on the Cincinnati City Council, and then in Congress, and then as Governor. He loved public service, and he passed that on to me. I grew up thinking a normal way for five-year-olds to spend a Sunday was walking around putting up campaign signs.

When he was 78, he joined the Cincinnati school board. And one of his proudest accomplishments in public office was using that position to help establish Cincinnati’s Community Learning Centers.

These schools stayed open well past 3 p.m. They not only educated kids, they had social services agencies and clinics that helped folks in the neighborhood six days a week. They were true to their name – they brought the whole community into the school.

I remember visiting one of those schools in a very low income neighborhood in Cincinnati with my father.

Before this school had been converted into a Community Learning Center, only 35 percent of the kids in the neighborhood attended had high school. Adults in the neighborhood had one of the country’s highest illiteracy rates.

But today, that elementary school—which was failing in 2002—now provides comprehensive services for kids from age 18 months to 18 years. Last year, the first high school students graduated and more than half went off to college – a remarkable turnaround.

That’s the power of community schools. You deal with the whole child—not only with education, but with the child’s health, the family’s health, and many of the other factors that can widen the achievement gap.

And to do that, you get whole communities working together—families, neighborhoods, businesses, and community leaders.

I’ve seen the success of these models up close in my home state of Kansas. When I was Governor, we had some terrific community schools in Wichita and Kansas City.

And part of the reason I was glad to join this administration is that I know the President shares my belief that this broad-based approach is the right approach to take for our kids.

We know that it’s hard to reach your full potential as a student if you don’t have good health. You could have the best teachers in the world, but you can’t learn if illness keeps you out of school. You could develop great academic skills as a child, but it’s hard to thrive if you also develop diabetes.

That’s why this administration has made children’s health one of our top priorities.

As many of you know, the First Lady is leading a new campaign to end childhood obesity in a generation. She’s doing what you do. She’s calling on everyone in a community —state, local and community leaders; parents; grocers, businesspeople and schools—to get involved.

She’s traveling around the country, trying to make sure our kids eat healthier and our neighborhoods have grocery stores with fruits and vegetables so parents can stock up on healthy food. She’s trying to make sure we have safe sidewalks and parks so kids can get out and play.

Schools have a big role. You can improve school cafeteria menus, limit the unhealthy foods kids can buy in vending machines, put physical education class back on every student’s schedule, and revitalize the President’s Physical Fitness Council.

We know that there are two conditions that are especially dangerous to our children’s health: tobacco use and obesity.

After decades of falling, youth smoking rates have stalled. Every day, 4,000 kids under 18 try there first cigarette and 1,000 kids a day become regular smokers.

Even more of our children struggle to achieve a healthy weight. According to our latest data, one out of every three American children is obese or overweight.

Through a Recovery Act program called Communities Putting Prevention to Work, we are making a historic investment in proven local strategies for reducing chronic disease, focusing on reducing tobacco use and obesity.

We want to find the most effective approaches and spread them to the rest of the country. And this includes many steps schools can take like the ones I just mentioned.

Our children spend more of their time in school than almost anywhere else. We should make it easy for them to make healthy choices while they’re there.

But no matter how healthy their community is, all children get sick or hurt eventually. And when they do, it’s crucial that they are able to get the health care they need.

That’s why one of the first bills the President signed was the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.

And by the end of last year, we already saw results. In total, we enrolled 2.6 million previously uninsured kids in CHIP and Medicaid. Before, their families couldn’t afford to send them to the doctor if they got sick. Now they have the chance to be healthy kids who are able to show up at school ready to learn.

But we know that even after signing these kids up, there are still 5 million kids out there who are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage but aren’t enrolled. That’s 5 million kids for whom a few pieces of paperwork may be the difference between getting the health care they need or not.

So I’m challenging all our partners across America – our partners in government, in faith-based organizations, in community groups, in the medical community, and now you too – to help us enroll these 5 million kids in the next five years.

And if you want to learn more about our Connecting Kids to Coverage challenge, I encourage you to visit our great new website, available in English and Spanish, at www.insurekidsnow.gov.

We took another huge step forward with the historic health insurance reform legislation President Obama signed last month.

The Affordable Care Act stitches up some of the most gaping holes in the health care safety net, including providing long-awaited relief for kids.

Right now, our health insurance system makes it totally legal for insurance companies to refuse to cover kids who have a preexisting condition. That means the people who need insurance most —sick kids— often get locked out of the system.

I met one of these families earlier today. The mom had a good job—at JP Morgan—with a good family policy. But last year she was downsized. She not only lost her job and insurance, but her family did too. And the story gets worse because her 7-year old son has a rare bleeding disease. His treatment costs over $30,000 a year, and every insurer in the area refused to cover them.

Starting this fall, this practice will be outlawed. It will be illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to children with preexisting conditions and their families.

That will provide peace of mind to thousands of families across the country. And that’s not the only reform that will help kids.The law eliminates co-pays for potentially life-saving preventive care like vaccines.

It provides new funds to help communities to build bike paths and parks like the ones the First Lady calls for in her anti-obesity campaign.

And, it authorizes a new grant program to set up school-based health clinics like those you often find in community schools. These clinics can provide comprehensive preventive and primary health care services in underserved neighborhoods, not only for kids but also for their families.

We believe these investments in our children’s health are a crucial part of the development that allows them to achieve their full potential.

We also believe that development doesn’t begin in Kindergarten. We know from the latest research that a lot of the most important brain development actually happens in the years before age five.

You just heard from Secretary Arne Duncan and he’s doing a great job of reforming K-12 schools.

But under President Obama, we’re also working with Secretary Duncan to make a significant investment in child care and early childhood education, so that our children start school ready to learn.

Even in a budget year as tough as this one when the President has proposed a three-year freeze on non-military discretionary funding, his 2011 budget calls for $1.6 billion in new child care funding and nearly $1 billion in new funds for Head Start in 2011 alone. Together, these new funds will allow these programs to serve approximately 300,000 more children than earlier funding levels

And we’re putting a big focus on quality. To foster healthy child development, child care can’t just be leaving your infant in a crib. Or sitting your toddler in front of the TV.

Preschool can’t just be somewhere you drop your child off in the morning. It should be a place that engages their minds, sparks their curiosity, and begins to develop their cognitive and social skills.

To make sure our kids get the most out of these programs and others, we need to ensure that these settings where are kids spend so much of their time are providing all the support our children need to succeed, from academic preparation to social skills to good nutrition to emotional development.

On the other end of childhood, this Administration is investing in evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention, so we can use the best knowledge available to make sure kids grow up and finish their education before they become parents. And we have a new office of adolescent health to deal specifically with issues affecting teens.

One of the best ways to support kids is to support the adults they spend time with. That’s why we’re trying new approaches like home visiting to help families succeed at the world’s most important job— parenting. We’re investing in fathers as well as mothers because engaged dads are crucial to reducing poverty and providing a better future for kids.

If you believe in whole child development as we do, you have to believe in cross-government cooperation. No single agency can provide all the resources and support that children need.

That’s why we’re working with the Education Department on early childhood development.

We’re working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to reduce youth homelessness.

We’re working with the Department of Agriculture to make sure that kids have healthy lunches this summer, when school feeding programs are on vacation.

Instead of asking, what can we do? We try to ask, what do children need? Then we go out and find the partners that will help us do it.

We need more of these approaches that address the whole child: their health as well as their education, in the years before and during school, and get their family involved too. If kids have vision problems, if they have asthma, if they didn’t eat a good breakfast, if they’re listless because they don’t have a safe place to go outside and move, then how can we expect them to get the most out of class?

Community schools are a great platform for this kind of whole child development. And if we want our children to thrive – if we want our country to thrive – then we need to take the principles at the heart of community schools and adopt them as a society.

Thanks for inviting me to talk with you today.