School-based health centers (SBHCs) have proliferated rapidly nation-wide and remain politically popular. This article explores the disconnect between the evidence and the discourse on SBHCs, drawing upon the authors' evaluation of SBHCs in Newark, New Jersey, and a critical assessment of the evaluative literature and public discourse on school clinics to argue that a number of important issues are being overlooked by both research and advocacy. These issues include variations in the health needs and health care resources of different communities and the questions of whether and how SBHCs can best integrate with existing resources to fill unmet local needs. Furthermore, despite the cautions of experts that third-party reimbursement (via traditional fee-for-service insurance or participation in health maintenance organizations) cannot cover clinic expenses and is difficult to obtain, pursuit of reimbursement continues to be a goal of some SBHC sponsors, helping to promote a clinic model that in some communities is very likely not to be the best way to address student needs or to build on clinic strengths. Discussion around SBHCs should focus on diagnosing specific community needs, identifying the best approach to meeting those needs, and seeking funding sources that match the work that needs to be done.

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