The Florida Department of Education recently withdrew from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and terminated Florida’s grant funding for the survey. Repeated requests as to why this is being done have only yielded vague answers about making the program more Florida specific. Given the politicization of the state Department of Education, the withdrawal is highly suspicious.
The youth risk survey was developed in 1990 to assess the health behaviors of adolescent youth in public high schools across the country through a confidential survey. Since 1991, the survey has collected data from more than 4.9 million high school students in more than 2,100 separate surveys. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey includes questions about substance abuse, instances of bullying or violence, sexual behaviors and mental health behaviors.
On March 16, Florida’s Division of Public Schools informed the CDC that it was electing to terminate its survey grant. The Department of Education said it plans to continue collecting comparable data from Florida’s public high school students in its own version of the survey and will foot the bill itself. No details were given on how the survey will differ.
Florida’s withdrawal comes at a time when more and more youth are in crisis. Survey results from 2009 through 2019 show that the percentage of high school students who felt sadness and hopelessness increased from 26.3% to 33.7%, while the percentage who attempted suicide rose from 6.5% to 7.9%, and victims of bullying on school property increased from 13.4% to 14.9%.
The survey results have been critical in understanding Florida’s young people and the internal and external challenges they face. Schools use the data to identify areas where students need more support. The data has helped guide our public health approach toward protecting student mental health.
Based on the political climate, the withdrawal raises myriad questions. Will Florida’s survey be as useful as the CDC survey in developing health policies that address our students’ mental health? Will Florida’s version of the survey collect data on race relations and how LGBTQ youth are faring, as the CDC one does? Why should Florida taxpayers foot the bill for a statewide survey that was previously covered by a CDC grant?
Too many questions remain unanswered, too much is on the line for our students. Florida should reverse its decision and remain a participant in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.”
Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach Democrat, is a Florida state senator representing District 31.