School nurse funding cut under Perdue budget plan

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL Georgia's school systems will lose $30 million to pay for school nurses -- and there will no longer be dedicated funding for the Regional Educational Services Agencies like the one for West Georgia headquartered in Grantville -- under Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed 2010 budget. School systems will still get funding that can be used to pay for the RESAs, but that money will be allocated through the state's Quality Basic Education formula. And that money, like all other QBE money, will be subject to "austerity cuts."
The term "austerity cuts" refers to a school system getting less money than it would be entitled to under the QBE formula. Of course, this is only the governor's proposal. "The General Assembly has to react to that, a lot of folks have to react to that," said Dean Jackson, public information officer for the Coweta County School System. "There is going to be a lot of give and take," he said. "This is sort of the opening salvo, if you will." Determining QBE is a fairly formulaic procedure based on numbers and types of students. "You get a set amount of funding, and you match that to the extent that you have local taxes, then you run the school system day to day," Jackson said. Other funding streams haven't been subjected to the QBE formula. They include some construction funds, graduation coaches, RESAs and Education Technology Centers, and the gift cards teachers get to purchase classroom supplies. Coweta has West Georgia RESA in Grantville, which includes an ETC. RESAs are to school systems what Regional Development Centers are to cities and counties. The RESAs help with teacher training and serve as an educational, curriculum and training resource for the school systems in each region. The ETCs provide training, consulting and service to educators to promote the appropriate use of technology in support of teaching, learning, and leadership. "By shifting some of these things to that standard funding formula, it slightly increases the share that we would have to pay for ourselves," Jackson said. "Even if the money stays the same, we do kind of lose a little bit of it by shifting into that formula." "I don't know how much it would be, but there will be some reduction of that actual percentage," he said. Each school system in a region supplies a portion of a RESA's funding. Georgia School Superintendent Kathy Cox discussed the RESA funding Wednesday before a joint House and Senate appropriations committee. In addition the RESA and ETC money, funding for graduation coaches and gift cards will be transferred into the QBE formula. "Those were separate programs, which were outside of QBE. If you wanted the money, you had to spend it exactly on those things," Cox said. By rolling them into QBE, "it means that the local school system is going to decide -- Is this where we spend this money?" Those programs could have kept their direct funding, but that would have meant an even deeper cut to QBE, Cox said. "The hole is not as deep because we have filled it up with some other stuff," she said. The school nurse money will be eliminated completely, Jackson said. When the school nurse money was initially appropriated several years ago, it came from the Master Tobacco Settlement. Coweta's share will be about $360,000, Jackson said. That's about 30 percent of the system's school nurse budget. Coweta is one of the few systems in the state that has a nurse in every school, Jackson said. The school nurses stay pretty busy, Jackson said. For the 2007/2008 school year, the nurses saw an average of 518 students a day throughout the school system, and administered an average of 400 medications per day and an average of 100 special treatments daily. A nurse functions as the health care professional in the schools, Jackson said. Nurses deal with student injuries and illnesses, and help with diabetic care and medication. Nurses also do disease monitoring and work with the county health department. When it comes to students with major medical problems, "there are a lot of students who are able to go to school because we have a nurse," Jackson said. Nurses also help out teachers, teach occasional classes, do health screenings, and hold special health programs and classes at the schools. Cox said that she did not want to eliminate the school nurses, and that the elimination was not in the budget she presented to the governor. But that presentation was made in August, and the economy has gotten even worse since then. Cox said the governor was trying to concentrate on cutting things that aren't essential to classroom instruction. "Of all the things that are being shifted and eliminated," Cox said, "this particular line item concerns me the most." The Coweta County Board of Education begins its budget process in early spring, and needs to have a budget passed by early June. The tax millage rate is set in late July or early August.

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