Thursday, April 22, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas, like all other states, is taking steps to address a nursing shortage that is expected to get worse before it gets better.

One of the first bills approved in the regular session last year, Act 9 of 2009, aims to increase the number of nursing students in Arkansas. The act dramatically increased the amounts of college loans a nursing student is eligible to receive, from $6,000 to $20,000.

Under Act 9, the state Board of Nursing will cancel the full amount of one year's loan for each year the nursing graduate practices in Arkansas.

Several provisions in Act 9 encourage nurses to become educators. The act allows students more time to complete their studies and still be eligible for financial aid. It also allows the Board of Nursing to provide financial aid to licensed nurses who want to further their education and join the faculty at a nursing school.

One reason for the nursing shortage throughout the country is a lack of qualified faculty. In most states there are plenty of people who want to become nurses, but there aren't enough people willing to teach classes. The main reason is that someone who is qualified to teach nursing can usually get a very highly paid job in a hospital or with a physician.

If an Arkansas nurse goes back to college to get a master's or a doctorate and takes out a loan under Act 9, the amount of a full year's loan will be forgiven for each year the person teaches nursing in Arkansas.

According to the state Board of Nursing, there were 45,129 licensed nurses practicing in Arkansas last year. That total represents all categories, such as registered nurses, advanced practice nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurses with prescriptive authority and licensed psychiatric technician nurses.

Registered nurses represent the majority of nurses practicing in Arkansas - there are 30,560 practicing in the state. There are 14,380 licensed practical nurses in the state.

In related news, the Board of Nursing and several philanthropic foundations have contributed to the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for programs that teach geriatric nursing.

The population of Arkansas is relatively old compared to other states, partly because of the number of popular retirement communities we have. Arkansas nursing homes already need more skilled nurses, and as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age the demand will grow for registered nurses and nurses with a baccalaureate degree in geriatric care.

Pulaski County Desegregation Lawsuit

Attorneys for the state are negotiating with attorneys for the Little Rock School District over how to conclude the long-running desegregation lawsuit. Under the terms of a 1989 settlement, the state has so far paid about $1 billion to the three districts in Pulaski County. The state agreed to the settlement because a federal court had ruled that past state actions hindered desegregation in Pulaski County schools.

The attorney general, representing the state, has proposed phasing out the state's annual payments of about $70 million a year. Little Rock school officials want the state to restrict the number and type of charter schools it approves in Pulaski County.

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