Updated: February 25, 2013 12:47PM
The amount of state aid to Illinois public schools has been dwindling for years, creating more financial pressure on school districts and increasing property tax bills. And Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing a $400 million cutback in education programs in the next state budget.
What’s more, the state board of education is requiring that districts hire certified school nurses to be involved in assessing and recommending individual programs for special-education children. CSNs have extra training and certification and are full-time employees with full benefits.
Illinois long has required school districts to hire CSNs, but many instead hired registered nurses because of a shortage of CSNs and because RNs can be part-timers without benefits, a more cost-effective option.
But that option is out as of July 1. And school administrators aren’t happy about it. They say RNs have worked out fine, and the CSN shortage will worsen because there are only three colleges in the state that have CSN programs.
Ideally, a certified school nurse is best to work with special-education pupils. Linda Kimel, president of the Illinois Association for School Nurses, says CSNs are the only nurses trained in educational philosophy, special-education rules and the special-ed process.
In a perfect world where no one worries about money, these kinds of hiring decisions are easy. But that world is long gone from Illinois. That it ever existed here explains a lot about how the state got itself in this financial quagmire.
School districts have been able to balance their resources on this nursing issue — hire a part-time nurse and be able to keep a music teacher. An experienced registered nurse is not a second-rate resource, despite what the rules imply. Now, districts statewide will have to divert a lot of money to hire certified school nurses, which they’ve managed to do without for years. It’s money that could be better spent.
By itself, this new requirement won’t break school district budgets but will squeeze them a bit tighter. That’s not good, especially in a state that ranks dead last in its share of funding for public education.