SENATE LOOKS TO SCHOLARSHIPS TO ADDRESS NURSING SHORTAGE
(AUSTIN) — The state would increase scholarships and faculty for nursing training under a plan approved unanimously by the Senate on Thursday. Texas is facing a critical nursing shortage, with the state health department estimating that need will continue to outstrip the workforce for the near future. SB 25, by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, would attempt to reverse that trend with two grant programs, one to attract students to the profession and another to attract qualified instructors to college nursing programs. "It's not going to happen overnight, but I think over a period of the next few years we're going to be able to meet the demand, or at least close the gap of what the demand is right now," she said.
SB 25, by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, would combat the state's nursing shortage with incentives for both students and instructors.
According to testimony presented before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on the bill last week, Texas is about 30,000 nurses short of what it needs to meet demand, based on pre-pandemic figures. "We expect that the pandemic put us in an even worse position," said Colleen Marzilli, a nurse instructor at the University of Texas at Tyler. She said that it's difficult to recruit qualified nursing faculty because nurses can make much more in a clinical setting than in the classroom. Kolkhorst said Thursday that college nursing programs are turning away tens of thousands of applicants due to a lack of faculty. In order to make teaching more enticing for qualified nurses, SB 25 will expand a loan repayment assistance program for eligible candidates. It would remove an existing $7,000 cap on annual aid and direct state health officials to develop a cap that better reflects the cost of modern education. The program was only open to full-time faculty, but the Senate plan would also make part-time teachers eligible, making the choice between practicing and teaching easier for prospective nursing instructors.
To help fill the classrooms of these new teachers, SB 25 also funds the Nursing Innovation Grant Program, a fund created by the 71st Texas Legislature back in 1989 which Kolkhorst said had lain unfunded for many years. This will help to fund scholarships for nursing students at Texas institutions of higher education. The bill would extend the program through 2027. These two bills are only part of an effort to dramatically increase funding in the state budget for programs aimed at reducing the nursing shortage in Texas. "We face many challenges dealing with our nursing shortages, and we've been working on this type of legislation for a long time," said Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, one of the bill's 30 co-authors. "The funding mechanism was always a challenge." Fully funding these programs, he said, will give assurance to people looking to enter the nursing field.
Also on Thursday, the Senate approved a bill that would codify existing prohibitions on COVID-19 restrictions. Right now, executive orders from Governor Greg Abbott prevent cities and counties from implementing mask mandates, vaccine mandates, or closures of businesses or schools. Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell says that once those orders expire, local municipalities would again have the authority to implement such restrictions. His bill, SB 29, would put those prohibitions into law. While the bill applies to COVID-19 and its variants, it does not apply to any future pandemics caused by different viruses.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 3 at 9 a.m. for the consideration of a local and uncontested calendar, and will meet in regular session on Monday at 2 p.m.