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Phoebe leads way for healthier education

The Georgia Education Finance Study Committee has been given the task of studying costs and resources required to educate the children in this great state of Georgia. Over the next few months, how the Legislature funds and appropriates public education will undergo fervent scrutiny by this committee. Accountability for taxpayer dollars is not only what the Legislature should do, but it is the irrefutable responsibility of every elected representative and senator to make certain that it happens. This committee is seen as the inaugural of open dialogue regarding accountability in government expenditures, how public dollars are spent.

Gov. Nathan Deal's leadership in the area of P-16 education is evident through his immediate attention outlining Georgia's move towards academic excellence. Gov. Deal and Lt. Gov. Cagle have both expressed the need for those who write the budget to evaluate what educational programs work and the significance of these programs as they define educational experiences of students.

One such program is that of school nurses. Nationwide, local boards of education have whittled away at education budgets, in some cases just to keep school doors open. Slow revenue growth and lethargic economies have forced schools to make tough choices as to what goes and what stays. Though some states may appropriate some money for school nurses, local boards of education with flexibility authorization can redirect funds away from such programs.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) takes the position that schools should employ professionally prepared registered nurses to conduct and supervise school health programs, which address various health problems experienced by all school students. It is commonly known that before children can engage in daily academic rigor, they must possess both good physical and mental health. Without physical and mental preparation, academic preparation lags. In most working-class families, children lack adequate health care, as there is a lack of health insurance in many of these households.

Communities throughout Georgia are no different than communities in other segments of the country in that a decrease in state revenue funding has caused school nurses to face almost certain extinction.

Remember, legislators want to support programs that increase academic growth in Georgia schools and school nurses is a program that many support. The problem is an economy that dictates quite stringently just how far decreased revenues will stretch.

Having healthy students provide assurances that districts will have higher academic achievement and a stronger workforce to supply area businesses. It becomes a win-win for the entire city. So imagine sitting in the meeting with the Commission on Education Funding discussing "shared responsibilities" and "school partnerships" as these premises relate to school nurses.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital was cited as the premiere hospital in the state of Georgia for partnering with the local Dougherty County schools, supplying school nurses at no cost! School nurses from across the state gave high acclaim to Phoebe for this generous partnership and wished more would follow its lead. For me, it was an easy association, because while employed by the Dougherty County School System, I managed a school that was the recipient of one of the first school nurses designated by CEO Joel Wernick. Currently, in some capacity, Phoebe nurses remain a part of the school system.

Each year thousands of children visit a school nurse for various reasons. All students in today's schools benefit from the evaluation and care of a trained medical person. Optimal achievement can only take place when a child is healthy, alert and safe. Happy birthday, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and thank you for your willingness to partner with local schools for healthier children.

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims was appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to the Georgia Education Finance Study Commission. This 20-member commission, over the next several months, is to study the costs and resources required to educate Georgia's children. Sen. Sims also serves on Senate Appropriations, Education and Youth, Retirement, and Natural Resources committees.