Sen. Newton Update: February 14, 2017

Minnesota’s School Counselor Crisis: We Can Do Better

The school counselors at Coon Rapids High School have had a rough year. They have had one student crisis after another, without adequate time to simply advise, listen and help prepare all students for a successful future. These school counselors shared their stories with me recently to help illustrate a long-standing and embarrassing statistic: Minnesota’s school counselor ratio sits at 748 students to every one counselor. Little wonder then, why most students never get the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss their future.

Our student-to-counselor ratio makes us the second worst state in the nation. The average ratio in the United States is 450-to-1; but the American School Counselor Association recommends an even lower ratio: just 250-to-1. Changing the status quo has been an uphill battle in Minnesota. Legislators have carried bills to increase funding for school counselors for years. Last year we finally saw a small victory with the investment of $12 million in one-time funding in the form of matching grants to schools who hired additional support staff.  This is still inadequate to meet the needs of all students.  

But to seriously address the ratio of students-to-counselors some states have passed legislation mandating a ratio, and I’d like to add Minnesota to that category. Too many people still view counselors as a luxury, when that reality is simply inaccurate. That’s why I am the proud chief author of Senate File 862 to set Minnesota’s maximum school counselor to student ratio at 400-to-1. This will bring more counselors into each school district, allowing more students to meet with them to discuss a wide variety of issues; issues that right now are frequently going un-addressed. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder. That means that in a class of 25, five of them could be struggling with some very grown-up issues – anxiety, depression or even substance abuse. Our kids are in crisis, and our schools simply aren’t equipped to handle all of their problems adequately.  School Counselors can help identify those students and direct them and their families to the help they need. 

Our world is a busy place, and all Minnesota children deserve the chance to talk with a school counselor about whatever issue is bothering them. From picking out next semester’s courses, to discussing college options, to dealing with depression – our students need assistance in school beyond the classroom. As legislators, we need to address this issue with more voracity than in past years. I am committed to doing right by Minnesota’s future leaders, and I am hopeful my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me.   

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Thank you,

Jerry Newton
State Senator
District 37