By Rob Thompson
With school safety concerns at the forefront, NC Child has made additional funding for school nurses a top priority for the 2018 legislative session. School nurses are on the front lines of protecting our children’s physical and mental health and play a key role in ensuring students are well enough to thrive in the classroom.
The North Carolina Legislature’s Program Evaluation Committee met on Monday to review some sobering data collected by its staff about the shortage of school nurses in NC public schools. In 2004, the Legislature committed to improving the ratio of students to school nurses to 1:750, but today only about ⅓ of local school districts meet that ratio. In Wake county, there are 2,072 students for every school nurse. Some school districts have nurses serving as many as six schools at a time, and fewer than 27% of NC middle and high schools have a full-time school nurse.
Why should the legislature ensure that kids have access to a nurse at school? Here are three important reasons:
- School nurses can help prevent school violence: School nurses and social workers are trained professionals who can identify and help troubled students before they harm themselves or others. The Legislature’s Committee on School Safety should recommend additional funding for school nurses to identify and prevent troubled children from turning to violence.
- School nurses keep teachers focused on education: The state’s school nurse shortage forces teachers to provide health care to students during educational time. When teachers can’t focus on education, all students suffer. State legislators can fix that by allocating school nurse funds efficiently across the state.
- School nurses save money: Relying on teachers, administrators and other non-nurses to provide medical care to students means that education dollars are subsidizing health care in schools. The Program Evaluation Division used just one example of a nursing service frequently provided to students by teachers or other non-nurses: administering medication. In 2015-16 the state spent approximately $15 million of education funds simply on providing students with their meds.
A shortage of school nurses short-changes both education and health. In rural counties where health care providers can be harder for children to access, school nurses are even more important – many are the main source of preventive health care for kids. We hope legislators will recognize the powerful findings in this report and end NC’s school nurse shortage – saving real money and keeping kids safer.