child health data
Candidate Survey on California's Kids
Responses: Tom Torlakson
Office: State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Q1: If you could tell California voters one thing about your commitment to the health and well being of children, what would it be?
In my 37 years as a teacher, coach, and policymaker, I have been committed to an education system that serves the whole child: not just their minds, but also their mental and physical well-being.
As Superintendent of Public Instruction, student health and well-being will be at the very top of my priorities. I believe we must ensure our children have a healthy start, including access to good food, adequate health care, and quality physical education.
A hungry, sick, or depressed child cannot learn to his or her potential. Best practices in local communities that serve a whole child’s needs have proven results with academic progress. As a high school teacher, I taught classes on health and nutrition, sponsored a running club and hiking club, and promoted the connection between a strong mind and a strong body for all my students.
My classroom strategies are now backed by research that shows health problems significantly impact our students: obesity, depression, asthma, and cavities rob our kids of years of seat time and learning. Furthermore, these health problems are most likely to impact our students of color and lower socioeconomic status. We must address student health to fight the achievement gap and the drop-out rate.
In my view, student health must be an education reform priority. I am
running for Superintendent of Public Instruction because it's time we
had a teacher as SPI who understands the impact of the body's health on
the mind's ability to learn.
Q2: In the past decade, Californian voters have consistently ranked children and child-related issues as a top priority, yet state programs that support children frequently lack adequate resources to fulfill their missions. If elected, what steps would you take to make the health and well being of children a higher priority in California?
The economic crisis has created far too many hardships across our state, problems exacerbated by devastating cuts to the social safety net—including vital programs supporting our children.
In response to this crisis, I have authored, and will continue to support, legislation to fully fund the Healthy Families program. I also want to increase our students’ access to health services. For example, I want to return school nurses to our public school campuses because medical issues detract from our students’ self-esteem and ability to learn.
We need to restore support services and staff in our schools. I have
been -- and as State Superintendent of Public Instruction will continue
to be -- a leading advocate for safe after school programs; gang intervention
and violence prevention programs; and funding more counselors to address
students' academic, emotional, social, and mental health needs.
Q3: How would you leverage the newly enacted health care reform legislation to benefit children in California?
Even as the recently passed health care reform legislation promises to provide access to health care insurance, the continued cuts to our health care safety net is having a negative impact on our children's access to these vital services.
I believe we must make sure every child in California has access to quality health care. That is why I authored legislation, and will continue to advocate for legislation, to fully fund the Healthy Families Program. ACA 22, a measure I authored, would have increased the tobacco tax and used the funding to enroll 700,000 uninsured children into the Healthy Families and dental care programs, fortified the Medi-Cal program, reversed cuts already made to programs serving our state's developmentally disabled and autistic children, and prevented further cuts to protective services for children.
As State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I also want to increase
our students' access to health services. For example, I want to return
school nurses to our public school campuses to help identify kids who
have dental problems, scoliosis, eye and vision concerns, hearing difficulties,
and other health-related issues so they can be referred to physicians
Q4: Statewide, 10 to 15 percent of families have a child with a special health care need -- a chronic physical, developmental, or behavioral condition that requires more than routine health and related services. As the fact sheet below illustrates, California ranks last in the nation on a minimum quality-of-care index for children with special health care needs. If elected, how would you address this situation?
We have an obligation to do better by these children. We must not abandon children with special health care needs and their families.
I believe we cannot address properly the challenges children with special needs face without providing adequate funding to their support programs and our public schools.
We must ensure these children have adequate health coverage and access to family-centered care.
In addition to fulfilling the formal duties of the position, I will use the platform provided by the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction to be a leading advocate for our students' health -- including seeking solutions to the problems our children with special health care needs face.