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Spending tobacco funds would hurt school program

As state lawmakers look for ways to tackle a tough budgetpicture, Lipsey Middle School officials are hopeful that their eyesdon’t turn toward tobacco lawsuit settlement money that funds theschool’s nurse program.

Lipsey’s Connie Board is one of 51 school nurses across thestate whose positions are funded by tobacco lawsuit settlementmoney from the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi through thestate health department, said Principal Rita Rich. About $2.5million of the Partnership’s $20 million is used for theprogram.

“We don’t want any of that money taken away from the schoolnurse program,” Rich said in response to the possibility of itbeing used to shore up Medicaid or other state budget areas.

The school nurse program began five years ago, and Board is inher second year at the school. She helps students in a variety ofways ranging from asthma treatments and helping diabetics todietary issues.

“On a daily basis, we handle a little bit of everything,” Boardsaid, adding that good health helps students with their academicstudies. “When they’re healthy, they can learn better.”

During the last school year, there were over 1,700 visits to theschool nurse, Rich said. She indicated those visits would bejeopardized if funding is impacted.

“If we lose our funding, we won’t be able to have a program forschool nurses,” Rich said.

The school nurse program is not limited to just physicalailments, officials said. Board also teaches a character educationclass to promote self-esteem and to encourage students to avoid thedangers of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

“Children who feel good about themselves are a lot more able toresist peer pressure to get into some of those bad things,” Boardsaid.

Some adults in the community have also benefited from Board’sservices, Rich said.

Board has taught several smoking cessation classes throughKing’s Daughters Medical Center. Two classes have been held alreadyand another is scheduled for April.

“That’s been very successful,” Board said.

Board’s services are limited to Lipsey as school nurses underthe program cannot serve more than 500 students, Rich said. She andBoard said the school nurse program serves an important role thathas helped students and adults alike.

“It’s too bad every school doesn’t have one,” Board said.