Having a personal connection to Maine, I have always appreciated the state for its virtues, including its independent political streak. As a member of Congressman Tom Allen’s campaign staff and one of his first legislative assistants, I learned to appreciate that Mainers value principle over politics and Tom always had support back home for his efforts to bridge the partisan gap in Washington. In the end, common sense prevails in Maine and the public good outweighs that of a select few. For that reason, the state is a policy leader in areas such as education and public health.

That is also why it is so unfortunate that Maine’s role as a national leader in community-focused health is at risk. Nearly $3 million from the Funds for a Healthy Maine program, money dedicated to the Coordinated School Health program, was cut in the last round of state budgets. This funding supported one of the country’s best models, putting Maine on the map as a national leader in advocating for student health. However, that success will likely become history if funding is not restored.

Maine’s Coordinated School Health program provides a research-based approach that empowers local communities with the resources and know-how to make their kids healthier. The program places coordinators in districts to assess the needs of their specific schools, develop a customized program to address those needs, and manage the program to ensure success. Because the model increases attendance and addresses non-academic barriers to school success, it is an important factor in the improvement educational outcomes.

Maine’s Coordinated School Health program has achieved impressive results. On average, every student in the state receives an additional 20 minutes of physical activity, and 380 new healthy food choices were added to lunch menus and provided at school events. Over a five-year period, school health coordinators raised more than $5 million of additional funding for health programs that benefit students and staff.

The personalized, focused and dedicated work of school health coordinators cannot be replaced or duplicated by periodic visits of state-level, external contractors or government officials. Coordinated School Health works because it provides school health coordinators as part of an infrastructure that ensures equity across all school districts — no matter where they stand in the socioeconomic strata — and guarantees that all students have a shot to be successful — in the classroom and in life.

Eliminating programs that are central to promoting a better quality of life for all children is penny-wise, but pound foolish.

The cuts to Coordinated School Health will mean the elimination of these coordinators, with Maine losing a powerful tool to combat childhood obesity and other health issues. I commend Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, and other state legislators who oppose these budget cuts and support the restoration of funding to this worthwhile and effective model.

Andrew Hysell is the project director for the Campaign for Healthy Kids and associate vice president for policy and advocacy for Save the Children’s U.S. Programs, where he is the lead for policy change on issues that have an impact on children in rural America. The Policy and Advocacy team manages federal and state government affairs for Save the Children’s U.S. Programs.

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