Blancett's Bill Addresses Critical Shortage of Public School Nurses, Counselors Through New State Department of Education and Health Grant Program
OKLAHOMA CITY –Oklahoma's critical shortage of school-based professionals who specialize in student health, counseling and mental health will be aided with a bill passed off the House floor today, authored by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa.
"We not only have a critical shortage of school counselors and mental health professionals to help public school students today, but we also have a shortage of school nurses in our education system," said Blancett. "Students need help and teachers can't be the only professionals that are student facing; they have enough on their plates."
The bill, HB 2827, sets up a matching grant program, administered by the State Department of Education, which would utilize state appropriated dollars to help public schools hire and retain these professionals. Assistance would be provided by the Oklahoma Department of Health to districts to obtain matching federal funds through Medicaid, which supports these types of staffing efforts.
Currently, there are fewer than 400 certified school nurses to cover more than 750,000 students in public schools, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, which drastically limits the ability to test students for auditory disorders, among other health challenges. While today's ratio of school counselors to students is "somewhat better" Blancett said also giving districts the ability to contract with mental health professionals can assist teachers in helping their students succeed in learning.
“The physical and mental health of our students is a top public priority. This bill will help make sure counselors and nurses are available in every school to meet the needs of students which just strengthens our workforce pipeline,” Rep. Blancett said.
The grants are contingent upon the availability of funds. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration. HB 2827 is co-authored by long-time public education advocate Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, as well as Reps. Mark McBride, Arturo Alonso-Sandoval and John Waldron.