ST. PAUL  — Minnesota’s first comprehensive review of school nurses has revealed that about half of the state’s school districts lack access to a school nurse. The study, conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health in 2022, was prompted by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The review highlights significant disparities, particularly in districts with higher proportions of low-income families. “This is the first time we’ve had such a comprehensive data picture about school nurses and health services staff in Minnesota,” said Dr. Brooke Cunningham, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “What we’ve learned is students in smaller districts, charter schools, and schools that serve more families with lower incomes just aren’t getting that same access to a school nurse as other students in Minnesota.” 

Key findings include: 

  • In 162 school districts where 40% or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, students were three times less likely to have access to nursing or health services compared to other schools. 
  • Students in the smallest districts had lower access to professional nurses. Around two-thirds of these schools were public districts, with the remainder being charter schools. 
  • Less than half (49%) of Minnesota school districts employed a licensed school nurse. 
  • Only 34% of Minnesota school districts, mandated by Minnesota Statute 121A.21 to employ a licensed school nurse due to having more than 1,000 students, were required to employ one. While 93% of these districts complied, only 26% of smaller districts did. 

“Access to quality health care is critical for students in Minnesota, no matter their ZIP code,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Education Willie Jett. “School nurses play an important role in the overall health and well-being of our young people.” 

The report recommends further investigation into funding mechanisms for school health services and exploring creative funding strategies for smaller or higher-need schools. 

For the full report, visit the MDH School Health Data and Reports webpage.