Lawmakers ease credentialing standards for school nurses

Monitor staff
Friday, September 22, 2017

Lawmakers have written some wiggle room into the rules attached to a controversial school nurse licensing law.

A state law that passed in 2016 required school nurses have a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of pediatric experience. It was endorsed by the New Hampshire School Nurses’ Association, who said the job merited the credentials. But others, including the Manchester health department, the largest employer of school nurses in the state, said the new standards would make hiring even more difficult amid a statewide nursing shortage.

On Thursday, a panel of legislators okayed an alternative pathway for school nurses that gives them six years to work toward a bachelor’s degree if they have an associate degree. The Department of Education crafted the credentialing option after people came to the State Board of Education to complain about the law’s potential impacts.

Nurses hired before July 1, 2016, were already exempt by the law from most of the new standards.

“Nobody fit the dream of what people wanted for this position,” said Republican Sen. John Reagan, the chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on administrative rules, which greenlit relaxing the standards. The committee is in charge of approving the rules that agencies put forward to flesh out laws once they’re enacted.

JLCAR conditioned their approval on the department seeking a law change, and legislation has already been filed regarding school nurse credentialing. Reagan even announced at the meeting that if what had already been submitted wasn’t what the department needed, he’d sponsor legislation himself.

Still, some on the committee wondered out loud if they weren’t overstepping their bounds by approving the work-around. Reagan disagreed.

“We’re performing the way we’re supposed to perform. To make sure that we have rules, that we do comply, and that when legislation’s been produced in error that we’re able to see that it’s corrected,” he said.

Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat, voted against approving the rules, arguing that the committee was in fact acting outside its authority.

“JLCAR is bound by the statute, whether we agree with the statute or not. Unfortunately, the statute requires at least a bachelor’s degree. The rules allowed for an associate’s degree. So, the rules did not conform to the statute, which I disagree with,” he wrote in an email.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)