Missouri’s K-12 schools are getting a big chunk of change in the latest federal coronavirus relief package. The U.S. Department of Education says $1.95 billion total has been designated for Missouri schools. The plan also includes funding for a program to increase student internet connectivity for virtual learning and aid for nonpublic schools.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson speaks to schoolchildren and teachers in mid-Missouri’s California School District on September 9, 2020 (photo courtesy of the governor’s Flickr page)

Linda Neumann, with the Missouri Association of School Nurses, says the group hopes the state’s school districts will consider using some of the federal funding to hire school nurses.

“The Missouri Association of School Nurses is hoping that in Missouri, they will invest the federal funding in a way that will effectively achieve safer classrooms in schools, to improve the physical and mental health and academic success of children. Part of this involves hiring school nurses in those schools that do not have access to a school nurse,” says Neumann. “If they need school nurses or if they need a counselor or maybe they can expand the number of school nurses they have so that one school nurse doesn’t have to cover three schools.”

Neumann tells Missourinet a 2020 state Education Department report shows about 20% of Missouri public school districts do not have a nurse.

“For some students, the school nurse is their actual health care home because of lack of access in their community, especially in some of our rural communities. That tends to be where there is a lack of school nurses right now, where not every town has a doctor, dentist, or a pharmacy, but they have a school. If that school has a registered nurse there to take care of those kids, that school nurse can really fill in the gaps, find resources, and have resources brought in. “It’s not that schools don’t appreciate having a registered nurse there. It is often a budget issue,” she says.

Neumann says in the early 1990s, about 50% of Missouri public school districts did not have a school nurse on hand. Then, an effort began to tax smokeless tobacco products and designate that revenue toward putting more nurses in schools.

In 1995, Missouri allocated $5.4 million annually for 15 years for school health services, which increased school nurses in schools to 99.7%. That funding ended in 2010. As a result, not all school nurse positions were sustained.

For the schools without a registered school nurse, some have a health aide. Others rely on their principal or an administrative assistant to field health problems. Without a school nurse, Neumann says the level of expertise and care the kids are going to receive is not going to be the same.

According to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, there are more than 72,000 Missouri K-12 public school students with asthma, some 27,000 have life-threatening food allergies, about 7,300 suffer from seizures, and more than 2,200 have Type 1 diabetes.

“This doesn’t even mention the impact that COVID-19 has had on kids,” says Neumann. “COVID-19 has definitely disrupted learning of students and compromised their physical and mental health. We have seen anxiety and depression go up tremendously in our state both in children and adults during covid.”

Neumann says having a school nurse on staff helps to reduce student absenteeism.

“When a registered nurse is there to help manage those chronic health conditions, like asthma and diabetes, those are things that the healthier we can keep the kids the more they can be in school,” she says.

Neumann cites The Journal of American Medical Association showing the benefits of investing in a school nurse.

“Their determination was that in schools, for every dollar invested in a full-time registered school nurse, that society would gain $2.20,” she says.

When administrators or school boards are determining how many school nurses are needed, Neumann says the schools should keep in mind student safety.

“That means nurse to student ratio and it really varies depending on the health needs of the students and the social determinants of the population,” she says. “If you have 700 kids that are all well, one school nurse is sufficient. But if you have eight kids with Type 1 diabetes, three with seizure disorders, three with sickle cell, a kiddo with chemotherapy – there are just so many factors that play into that.”

Missouri has about 550 traditional public school districts and charter schools serving roughly 900,000 students.

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