Letter to the Governor
Dear Governor Cuomo,
Our children are in crisis. At a time when federal policies to support children’s health are being rolled back, taking action has never been more important. One in 5 students faces a serious mental illness in a given year, while 1 in 6 New York children struggles with hunger, and almost 1 in 3 is overweight or obese. School districts need adequate tools and resources to address the health of ALL students. Please support our students by creating a New York model wellness policy and investing $21 million to improve and implement school district wellness policies.
As parents and educators know—and the science shows—healthy, active children are better equipped to learn and thrive. That’s where school district wellness policies come in. These policies set standards and best practices to create healthy school environments where children can eat well and be physically active. At their best, wellness policies help schools connect the dots between students’ physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.
School districts need more support for school wellness. Under federal law, all New York districts must have a school wellness policy. Yet nearly 90% of New York districts’ policies are missing at least one federal requirement. Evidence shows that state-level wellness policy laws lead to more comprehensive, better-implemented wellness policies. Twenty-four states have these laws; New York does not. Moreover, New York ranks near the bottom in overall policies that comprehensively address healthy schools.
We respectfully recommend the following actions that will give school districts the tools and resources they need to support students’ health and well-being:
Develop a New York State model wellness policy. Our state can be a leader—becoming the first in the country to codify a comprehensive model wellness policy that gives districts a roadmap for students’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This model policy would NOT create a new mandate. Instead, it provides a voluntary framework that gives districts a shared resource for policy improvement instead of asking them to reinvent the wheel.
Invest $21M in funding and technical assistance to support school districts—particularly high-needs districts—to improve and implement wellness policies.
$20M: New York has 205 high-needs school districts. These districts need funding to bring strong, comprehensive wellness policies to life for our state’s most vulnerable children. Funding should be flexible to address communities’ local challenges.
$1M: Provide funding for the Department of Education to fill a health and wellness position and create a resource hub to provide wellness policy technical assistance to all districts that need help.
These solutions will make New York a leader in comprehensive school wellness, building on your important initiatives such as Farm to School incentives, the “No Student Goes Hungry” initiative, a mental health education law, and suing the Trump administration to stop school nutrition rollbacks. With the right state-level resources for school districts, including Foundation Aid funding, we can ensure ALL of New York’s children can learn and thrive. Thank you very much for your consideration of these recommendations.