Senators Stabenow, Peters Introduce Bill to Improve Student Health

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Yesterday, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI), Gary Peters (MI), Jon Tester (MT) and Jack Reed (RI) introduced legislation to hire more school nurses and improve student health. The NURSE Act will allow schools or state agencies to apply for federal grants to reduce the cost of hiring a nurse. School districts will be eligible to apply for the additional resources based on the number of their students who qualify for free or reduced price school meals – an across-the-board indicator of poverty within school districts. In 2012, the Michigan School Nurse Task Force found that Michigan ranked very last among states in the ratio of school nurses to students with one nurse for every 4,411 students. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a ratio of one nurse to every 750 students. 

“Whether it’s responding to an emergency or diagnosing a health issue early on, school nurses provide critical health care services for our children,” said Senator Stabenow. “By helping schools with additional resources to hire a nurse, we’re giving students in need of care a better chance of succeeding in the classroom.”

“School nurses play a vital role in fostering a learning environment that keeps students healthy and thriving,” said Senator Peters. “I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the NURSE Act so that we can better address school nurse shortages and expand access to health services and management of chronic health issues to promote wellness in the classroom.”

“Improving the health of our students will help them succeed in the classroom. Kids who are sick can’t learn,” Senator Tester said.  “Often times schools are the only place children receive health care and increasing the number of nurses in our schools will remove some of the barriers that have kept some students from reaching their full potential.”

“School nurses are important advocates for families and kids.  They help ensure all students are healthy and ready to learn,” said Senator Reed.  “The connection between school nursing and student success is especially important in low-income communities.  Students who are at higher risk for health conditions really benefit from having access to health services that promote wellness and increase school attendance.  The NURSE Act would create a new, competitive grant program that schools in Rhode Island and nationwide could apply for to support greater access to school nurses and healthier schools.”

According to the National Association of School Nurses, only 45 percent of public schools have a full-time nurse available to students and another 30 percent of schools only have a part-time nurse.

The grants established in this bill will be administered by the U.S. Department of Education and a school district can apply for the grant individually or as a group with other school districts.  State agencies are also eligible to join school districts in applying for the grant to support individual districts along with statewide school health initiatives.

To encourage state agencies and school districts to continue investing in school nurses after the grant expires, the NURSE Act requires school districts to provide matching funds to receive the grant.  The federal share of the grant will start at 75 percent of the overall cost of hiring a school nurse and gradually shrink over the succeeding years of the grant.

The NURSE Act is supported by the National Association of School Nurses, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Trust for America’s Health. You can read what they are saying about the bill here.