There is a very good reason to put a public health clinic inside a public school: It’s where the kids are.

Instead of a parent leaving work to take a student out of class to see a doctor or attend a counseling session, school-based clinics provide an efficient way to deliver health care that’s not disruptive to education. Although they are open to every student, they are especially helpful for low-income families that may not have a relationship with a primary care physician. If not for the clinic at school, the child might have to go with no care.

But there is a problem with Maine’s school-based clinics: They have no money.

As the state government went into shutdown last summer, a hastily negotiated compromise budget cut $10 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, and the administration chose to focus on public health programs. The department removed all funding from the 16 school-based clinics.

The Legislature was right to pass a budget and let state government reopen before unnecessary damage was done to the people and businesses that rely on state agencies. But lawmakers should not miss the opportunity to fix this mistake during this legislative session. A bill sponsored by Rep. James Handy, D-Auburn, would do just that, sending $600,000 to fund the school clinics this school year and next.

The clinics have been able to continue operating by billing for services. That’s fine for students who are covered by MaineCare or private insurance; some families, though, earn too much to qualify for the state program but do not have insurance through work. Those families have to come up with a way to pay out of pocket for services their child needs to be able to take full advantage of the public education to which they are entitled.

Cutting public health is a shortsighted way to bridge a budget gap, especially when you consider the long-term consequences of disrupting schoolwork by forgoing care. It’s important to keep the clinics where the kids are.

The Legislature should take the time to fix this problem that was created in haste last summer.

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