Tester Pushes to Hire More School Nurses, Improve Student Health in Underserved Montana Districts

Tester’s NURSE Act addresses critical school nurse shortages in schools

In honor of National Nurses Week and on National School Nurse Day, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is today introducing the Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere (NURSE) Act to help rural and underserved Montana schools hire more school nurses and increase student access to care.

“School nurses across Montana have been absolutely vital to keeping schools up and running, and keeping our students safe throughout this public health crisis,” Tester said. “As our kids continue to face challenges in the wake of this pandemic, it’s critical that we invest in their health by providing schools with the support they need keep nurses on staff and help students thrive. Too often, school nurses are the first and only source of health care for students in underserved communities, and an investment in our school nurses is an investment in our students’ future—plain and simple.”

Tester’s NURSE Act authorizes a grant program administered through the Department of Education to help schools and state agencies cover the cost of hiring more school nurses. Schools, districts, and state education agencies would be eligible to apply for these additional resources based on the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. This bill prioritizes grant awards for applicants with high percentages of low-income students, as well as districts with no nurses at all.

Montana schools often serve as a primary provider of health care services to youth. However, only four Montana counties meet the recommended nurse-to-student ratio, and half of all Montana counties lack school nurses entirely.

Tester’s bill is supported by the Montana Association of School Nurses, National Association of School Nurses, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, and Trust for America’s Health.

“Now more than ever, school nurses have stepped up to provide guidance for their schools and community as we have all tried to navigate providing education amidst the pandemic,” said Great Falls Public School’s Erica Harp, President of the Montana Association of School Nurses (MASN). “School nurses have advocated tirelessly for the physical and emotional health of their students and staff. They have led the way in enforcing effective mitigation measures to ensure schools are safe for their in person learners. As we move out of the pandemic school nurses will continue to advocate for the holistic health needs of their students and schools. Mental health is an increasing concern as we see students deal with anxiety, stress, and depression. School nurses are an essential part of the school team to help students feel safe, well, and ready to learn.”

“Health and well-being influence many aspects of our lives. We all can agree that poor health negatively impacts our youths’ education and academic successes. In the school setting, school nurses play a critical role in the foundation of integrating health and education by providing student-centered health care services, prevention, and education,” said Butte School District’s Katie Yates, MASN member and 2020 Montana School Nurse of the Year. “School nurses operate as health educators, nurse advocates, care managers, and nurse leaders. During the school day, school nurses support students with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, seizures, anaphylactic allergies, cystic fibrosis, and many others. We deliver direct care from minor injuries to emergencies, promote health and safety, provide care coordination, address social determinants of health, and develop vital school health policies, plans, and procedures. Most recently, school nurses have stood at the front-line of defense during the COVID-19 pandemic. School nurses promptly collaborated with school administration and public health officials to ensure our youth were learning in healthy school environments and all efforts were made to protect the wellbeing and safety of our surrounding communities. The NURSE Act will guarantee that all schools experience the immeasurable impacts of a school nurse and communities will continue to see a brighter future.”

“The primary goal of schools is to educate students, but learning becomes more difficult for students in poor health,” said Billings’ Karen Graf, Montana State Director of the National Association of School Nurses. “School nurses have a crucial role in assuring the physical health, mental health, and safety of children and youth, all of which are directly related to student achievement, and now navigating though the Covid-19 pandemic by assisting public health with case investigation, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing, and vaccinating students and staff. School nurses are key in the delivery and coordination of care, education, identification of resources, and advocacy. The NURSE Act would help make it possible for more Montana schools to realize the benefit of a school nurse in their community ensuring our Montanan students are healthy, safe, and ready to learn in a safe in-person school environment.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics is pleased to support the NURSE Act, recognizing the vital role that school nurses play in providing immediate and appropriate care for children,” said Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “An on-site school nurse is crucial to meeting children’s needs, especially to address the heightened social, mental, and emotional needs of students and their families as schools prepare to reopen this fall. The NURSE Act would make it easier for schools, especially those in under-resourced and rural areas, to have a school nurse on site. This bill could not come at a more important time. We commend Senator Tester for its introduction and urge its swift passage through Congress.”

“Trust for America’s Health applauds the introduction of the NURSE Act,” said John Auerbach, CEO of Trust for America’s Health. “We know children do better in school when they are healthy. Every child deserves a chance to succeed both inside and outside the classroom, and school nurses play a critical role in promoting optimal student health and learning.”

Full text of the Senator’s NURSE Act is available HERE.