SCHOOL NURSES: Pressed By More Students, Less Funding
The role of school nurses in California is becoming "increasingly critical as more children with complicated and life-threatening conditions enter public schools under the mandates of a new federal law," the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the law, "public schools must accommodate all children," including those with physical disabilities. For California public schools, that means obliging "about 610,000 students with physical and learning disabilities," many of whom require "adult help full time to get through the school day." The Times reports that despite these new demands, "school districts have slashed nursing staffs over the past two decades because of budget constraints," administrators say. While California has set the nurse-to-student ratio at one to 2,700, Orange County has one for every 3,000 students (150 full-time nurses serve 460,000 students); Los Angeles County has one for every 1,360 students; and "even more dire," the Saddleback Valley Unified School District has only two full-time nurses, one for every 16,500 students. The Times reports the "number of school nurses began to shrink in the late 1970s after Proposition 13 rolled back property taxes in California," which meant "less money for public schools."
School administrators say "growing demands for smaller class sizes, new text books and computers" have made budgeting tight. "Our budget is barely balanced for this year and next year. I'm very well aware of children's health needs. But there are a lot of things we'd like to fund but we can't," said Saddleback Valley Superintendent Peter Hartman. One way school districts are attempting to "get the most for their money" is hiring "health assistants -- who work for less pay but are not required to hold a state license." But some parents "are not comfortable with policies that allow unlicensed school staff to care for their children," the Times reports. The California PTA council has approved a resolution proposed by Orange County PTA member Pat Klotz that calls for a "cap on the nurse-students ratio." Sixteen states, including West Virginia and Pennsylvania, have similar laws that set the cap at "one nurse for every 1,000 children" (Nguyen, 3/2).