A California bill that aims to alleviate the state’s school nurse shortage by giving school districts greater flexibility when hiring nurses is one step away from becoming law.
Assembly Bill 1722, introduced by Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber) in February, would allow school districts to hire licensed vocational nurses when credentialed school nurses are unavailable.
The bill was unanimously passed by the Assembly in May, and again unanimously by the Senate in early September and sent Sept. 22 to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until Oct. 14 to sign the bill into law or veto it.
Licensed vocational nurses are those who have completed a vocational nursing certificate program, which is usually offered at community colleges and takes about a year to complete. They practice under the supervision of registered nurses, who typically hold either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, which typically takes two or three years of schooling.
According to the bill, licensed vocational nurses would practice at schools under the supervision of a credentialed school nurse employed by the same district. Credentialed school nurses are typically registered nurses who have also earned school nurse credentials from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Additionally, rural schools are more likely to lack school nurse support than those located in cities, towns, or suburbs, according to the assemblywoman.
“One school district I represent has gone without a school nurse for 3 years and others share a health clerk who is contracted for 2 hours a week,” she said. “As a result, the reality for our students means going without a school nurse, [and] school staff without medical training are the ones applying bandages, dispensing medication, managing allergies, asthma, monitoring blood glucose levels, and handling medical emergencies.”
The Small School Districts Association echoed Ms. Dahle’s concerns in a September statement, calling the school nurse shortage a “pressing need” for rural districts.
"There is a pressing need to augment our capabilities given the current challenges posed by a growing nurse shortage,” the association said. “By utilizing [licensed vocational nurses] under the appropriate supervision, we can broaden our resources without compromising the quality of care provided to our students."
The bill has garnered support from other education groups—including the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association—as well as parents and community members.
The association said, in a statement included in the analysis, it opposes the bill because it is concerned that it could be used to “circumvent” some recent labor agreements for credentialed school nurses’ salary increases by hiring licensed vocational nurses instead.
The union instead argued they believed restricting the bill’s provisions “specifically to rural counties of a certain size provides a more immediate solution for rural counties and prevents larger [local educational agencies] from utilizing the provisions of [the bill] to hire lower salaried employees.”