Most state school rankings tout the schools that offer the best education or college sports or low cost. But one health group advocate thinks that asthma and allergies should get a state ranking list too.
After years of taking calls from concerned parents or school administrators, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America or AAFA noticed that "some states are just better than others when it comes to protecting their child's safety," said Mike Tringale, director of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
By safety, Tringale means the care for allergies and asthma. Other things like gun safety may seem more important to adults than irritating conditions like allergies or asthma. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that childhood asthma rates doubled since 1980 and that asthma is the third-ranking reason for a kid to go to the hospital.
"Asthma is the number-one chronic reason why children miss school in the U.S.," said Tringale.
With that in mind, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America set out to recognize the best states for asthma and allergy policies. Some did fantastic, others did not.
The following states made the organization's Honor Roll, or honorable mention.
Yes, it's true. New Jersey might be known more for oil refineries than for its invigorating air quality. But when it comes to making health policy for kids, the Garden State tied with two other top states for best rules in place.
To rank states like New Jersey, the group used 18 criteria policies. Rules ranged from notifying parents of pesticide use to the right of a child to carry their own allergy medication.
New Jersey hit all of them on the nose, except for the nurse-to-student ratio. To manage students' asthma or allergies well, the AAFA panel recommended at least one nurse for every 750 students.
A ratio of 750 kids to one nurse sounds high, but school principles have had to work with much worse.
"I had one nurse for 2,200 students. Under this guideline I'd have three nurses," said Mel Riddile, the principal for the T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and the associate director of High School Services at National Association of Secondary School Principals.
"In many jurisdictions, they just have a nurse's assistant, not even a real nurse in the area," said Riddile.
Only four states in the country could meet the 750 kids-to-one-nurse policy. Vermont was one of them, tying with New Jersey on the Honor Roll list.
This small state, which is ranked second to last in population, managed to lead the pack with asthma and allergy care.
Not only did Vermont score well with its students-to-nurse ratio, the state also required emergency protocols set in place for an asthma attack.
While Vermont could likely beat New Jersey in outdoor air quality, the one point where the state fell short was the indoor air quality rules. Unlike New Jersey, Vermont did not mandate that all schools follow an indoor air quality policy.
However, some individual schools have indoor air quality management policies requiring proper carpet care, management of HEPA filters and careful pesticide use.
"When it comes to health care, New England states seem to be ahead of the pack," said Tringale. Indeed, Connecticut tied with Vermont and New Jersey for the top of the asthma and allergy Honor Roll.
Connecticut also hit all but one mark on the gold standard list of 18 essential policies, falling short on the issue of requiring incident records for allergic reactions or asthma attacks.
But to listen to veteran principal Riddile, school officials don't tend to forget asthma attacks.
"When kids have asthma attacks in school, it's really very upsetting," said Riddile.
According to Riddile and the AAFA, indoor air quality can have a lot to do with the rate of asthma attacks. When Riddile's high school moved from an old building to a brand new "green" environmentally friendly building with sophisticated venting, the number of asthma attacks dropped.
"When we were in the old building, we would see it [asthma attacks] almost two or three times a week," said Riddile. After the move, he remembered being struck by the lack of attacks.
"I turned around and said, 'You know, I can't remember the last time I even heard on the school radio a call for that."
Falling shortly behind Connecticut is yet another New England state: Rhode Island.
Rhode Island hit all but two of the 18 gold standard policies. The state sets policies for emergency response to asthma attacks, policies for indoor air quality and tobacco policies.