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Senate Finance Committee Votes Down School Nurse Mandate

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A bill to put nurses in every school across Virginia was voted down Wednesday. This isn't the first time a mandate such as this failed to make it out of committee. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

A proposal from Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) to get nurses into every public school building in Virginia was voted down in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Lawmakers told the senator that, despite being a worthy cause, now’s not the right time to shift funding around to pay for it.

Committee Chair Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) said the mandate would require more money from the state, which is currently dealing with budget shortfalls from COVID-19.

“I think that in the middle of a pandemic, when schools have already done their hiring, and already are dealing with the situation, this is just not the right time,” Howell said.

Howell told Kiggans that although it’s an important issue, it should wait until the next session in January. Proposals to mandate more school nurses have been brought up to the General Assembly several timesbefore over the last five years.

Currently, the Virginia Department of Education does not require a full-time nurse at every school. And in a 2018 report from the Virginia Association of School Nurses, the ratio of registered nurses to students in Virginia is one school nurse for roughly every 9,000 students.

In an earlier meeting with the Senate Education and Health Committee, Kiggans said having a nurse in every school is important, not just during a pandemic.

“Nurses are good health educators for things like good nutrition and label reading, and they can help save health care costs if we have a healthier population,” Kiggans said.

Nurses are currently classified as support staff, which limits the legislature's ability to mandate staffing levels. Lawmakers can only mandate staff to student ratios for defined positions; the bill would reclassify nurses in their own unique category. The bill also had a waiver that would allow for some schools to employ licensed nurses until a registered nurse could be hired.

 

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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