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Opinion: When the case is strong enough, both sides of the aisle get to help kids — so can our governor

Bipartisanship is hard to find these days. Not that the good old days were ever as congenial as we like to pretend, but today’s politics certainly feel full of negativity and line drawing, fueled by social media follows and sound bites.

This budget session, however, you can take pride in the fact that your Missouri Legislature. Both Republicans and Democrats came together on something necessary and good and impactful.

They voted to help students breathe.

The current state budget draft has a line item, passed by the House and Senate, that would give public schools the medication, equipment, and education to rescue children when they have an asthma attack while in school. Some schools already have these items, which are purchased out of already stressed budgets or through the generosity of donors to nonprofit programs. Most do not. All that remains is for Gov. Mike Parson to keep this in the budget, and then sign it.

In 2012, Missouri became the first state in the union to allow albuterol to be stocked in schools. Another 15 states now do too. Parson can make a real difference and keep Missouri on the leading edge of student health with a relatively small amount of money.  Here are three reasons why I think he will:

1. It will work

The plan is modeled after the RESCUE program already run in some Missouri schools. In the 11 years of its operation, when a child has an asthma event, in a school that participates in RESCUE, they are able to go back to class nearly 90 percent of the time. Conversely, nurses tell us that without the resources kids stay in school just 25 percent of the time.

2. It actually costs nothing

Asthma is a leading cause of school absences in Missouri every year. Over 155,000 children living in Missouri are living with asthma. When a child is supported by Medicaid, then much of the cost of an ambulance ride and an emergency room visit becomes the responsibility of the state and its taxpayers. If these hospital visits are reduced by even 25 percent, then it could be a wash. If they are reduced by a predicted 70 percent, then the state will actually save money well above the budget expense.

3. It keeps kids where they belong

The school shutdown that COVID caused reminds us that kids really need to be in school. Kids and communities benefit from the educational and social stimulation that only a school can provide. Attending school allows all kids to seek their full potential in academics, arts, sports, and more. Also, when children remain in class after an asthma event it means that their caregivers will not have to come pick them up for treatment. With this program in place, more kids will be in the classroom and more Moms and Dads can keep working.

I have not yet mentioned that this will help our hard-working school nurses save lives, but that does not make it any less true. Every day an average of 11 Americans die from an asthma attack. Most of these deaths are avoidable with proper knowledge and resources.

Missouri already allows albuterol to be stocked. Now we can continue the momentum and keep kids healthy and in school with this initiative. Gov. Parson has the power to do so by approving HB 3002 Sec 2.333, a tiny fraction of the budget, all while saving taxpayer dollars in the process.