In 2000 Teachers for Healthy Kids was founded by the California Association of Health Plans and California Teachers Association to develop a school-based program to enroll families in health coverage. It was generously funded in 2002  by The California Endowment The goal was to address the health coverage needs of students through school-based outreach that promotes the enrollment of students in no or low cost health insurance, such as Healthy Families and Medi-Cal. Teachers recognized they “could not teach to an empty desk”. Student absenteeism, often resulting from preventable health problems, impacts school performance. Since its inception, THK Health Outreach has been implemented in school districts throughout California, resulting in enrollments of thousands of children in health insurance programs.  California has gone from about 34% of eligible children enrolled in Medi-Cal to about 95% enrollment.

Over the years THK has developed and implemented a number of projects. Communities for Healthy Kids (CHK), a League of Cities companion project to THK, was initiated to work with city and county governments to develop health outreach programs, which used the THK model. Other projects such as Healthy Air, Healthy Kids were implemented. Asthma is the leading chronic illness causing student absenteeism and teachers and school custodial workers suffer higher rates of asthma than the general working population, efforts to improve the indoor air quality of schools have become a top priority. The project provided teachers and school districts with educational materials and resources to improve the indoor air quality in their schools. The strategies provided range from classroom arrangement tips to impacting school policy.

This project was implemented in many districts throughout California and thousands of teachers have received the Healthy Air, Healthy Kids materials. Other projects included providing healthy foods in school settings. The Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, nutrition and physical activity and education project focused on healthy nutrition and physical activity and education for students, all of which impact health and learning.  Other projects have included developing the LEA Workgroup for school personnel, providing back-up and support during COVID Public Health Emergency, providing laptops to health outreach staff at school sites to allow them to more effectively serve parents in the field, supporting efforts to increase the school-based health workforce. With all THK projects, there is a state and local policy component to ensure that efforts to protect student health and promote learning can be institutionalized.  These include expansion of services that can be delivered at the school site as well as the type of practitioners that can be reimbursed.

In recent years both the California and federal government have made efforts to extend school-based health and mental health services. THK has been part of the effort to make this change and to involve school health personnel and organizations to ensure they have a voice in the decision making. Our efforts continue with supporting the increase in the  school based health workforce, adopting and implementing a new manual for school based programs, supporting the implementing of new services such as school based immunizations and helping to ensure families remain enrolled in no and low cost health insurance.