Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Questions about the Healthy Schools bill

The Slow Cook has taken a look at the recently introduced B18-564, "Healthy Schools Act of 2009."   Ed Bruske asks perhaps the most important question:   How much will this cost?   Oh, and what is the plan for paying for all of the elements?   I will leave it to the farm-to-school, locally-grown food, and nutritious food advocates to deal with funding related to their provisions.

I'm concerned about the other provisions, including the one that requires the establishment of minimum levels of physical education and activity for students.   The standards are detailed in the legislation; no cost there.   What I am fairly sure about, though, is that implementing the PE standards will cost somebody something.   The same is true for other provisions:

  • Each school is required to have a recycling program.
  • Schools are encouraged to have garden programs.   Will funding be provided or will schools, parent-teacher associations, the local business community have to step in to help?   And, perhaps or, will schools seek grants?   Are all schools able to take the time to write grant proposals or are other needs more pressing?

Another important set of issues revolves around how this bill comports with current law.   The proposed legislation calls for the placement of a school wellness center at every comprehensive DCPS high school by 2015.   Based on what we know about the value and use of school-based health services (see this post on the Woodson Adolescent Wellness Center), the idea is a good one.   But the city already has plans for school-based clinics.   So is "Healthy Schools Act of 2009" redundant?

Then there are the provisions that give preference in hiring school nurses certified as asthma educators and require that schools develop allergy plans and appoint an allergy coordinator.   Currently, schools in DC are operating in accordance with the "Student Access to Treatment Act of 2007."   The purpose of this legislation was to permit student with valid medical action plans to possess and administer meds to treat asthma and anaphylaxis.

Self-administration has been shown to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, promote student participation in school activities, reduce absenteeism, and save lives.   Is the new bill redundant?   No, it is parallel and at first blush complementary.   As the new legislation goes through the process of hearings and markup, I expect these and other questions to be asked and answered so the public and elected officials fully understand what this new legislation does and how it intersects with current law.

Finally, on a practical note, B18-564 was sequentially referred first to the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment and then to the Committee of the Whole for consideration.   The Committees have tentatively agreed to a date in February for a joint hearing although the notice has not been filed.

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