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Reprinted from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald March 6.

It sounds positive when state lawmakers talk about giving school districts more flexibility in spending and shifting decision-making toward more local control.

But legislators are tasked with looking out for the greater good for everyone, and there are times that ceding responsibility to lower levels of governance isn’t necessarily in citizens’ best interest.

That’s particularly concerning when the citizens in question are children.

A measure advancing in the Iowa Senate would eliminate the requirement that school districts employ full-time school nurses and librarians.

Bill sponsor Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she brought the legislation forward after hearing from constituents who said, “We don’t need regulations telling us to do what’s best for these kids.”

Giving local government more control is one thing, but this legislation goes a bit far. After all, we certainly do believe that some state regulations about what’s best for kids are necessary. It’s just a question of which ones.

The role of the school librarian has evolved to meet 21st century learning needs, including using technology for research and verifying sources of information. That’s a necessary role in today’s educational model. Librarians continue to be champions for reading and to foster students’ love of it. Ask any young adult who loves to read and they probably have a story about a librarian who helped them along the way. These days, librarians also can help students sort through the information that bombards them and separate the accurate from the fake.

The state mandate on nurses is that the role be filled in the ratio of one nurse per 750 students. Nurses address the needs of students with chronic or short-term illnesses, emotional and physical. With a dramatic increase in the number of students with diabetes alone, requiring a nurse in every district is hardly an overreach.

Supporters say eliminating the requirement would allow smaller districts to contract with individuals to perform those duties rather than employ a full-time nurse or librarian. Perhaps the state needs to consider a modification of the law to help out smaller districts. But a broad-brush removal of the requirement goes too far.

Even if the Legislature decides to move forward with the measure, school districts would be wise to tread cautiously. Yes, budgets are tight, but nurses and librarians continue to play vital roles in schools.

For all the elected officials who list education as a top priority, here is an opportunity to show leadership rather than cede responsibility to school districts and risk losing librarians and nurses in some (most likely the poorest) districts.

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