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State leaders need to address severe shortage of school counselors

Courtesy of Minnesota House Public Information Services
It is crucial that the Minnesota Legislature pass the Safe & Supportive Schools Act this session so that we can create a safe environment for our kids under one of the nation’s most robust anti-bullying laws.
David Warner

Minnesota has one school counselor for every 792 students, ranking it 48th in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education. For a state that comes out on top in so many areas, we are woefully short in providing sufficient counseling services for our kids. Gov. Mark Dayton raised awareness of this issue last week when he declared it “School Counseling Week” to highlight the vital role that school counselors play in student success.

I applaud Dayton’s action and echo his call for more work to be done on this important issue. Minnesota school counselors are stretched beyond capacity. Our schools need more professional counselors to help with the growing number of issues that confront students every day.

We are urging state leaders to help.

Counselors serve in many capacities

While professional school counselors are known for helping students explore their abilities, strengths, interests and talents, our work goes well beyond that. We are certified and licensed educators who are uniquely qualified to help students maximize their academic success, career readiness, and personal and social development. We help students and their parents plan for college and ensure they are prepared to enter the work force.

We also support a safe learning environment, which students and school leaders rely on. Minnesota has one of the most inadequate anti-bullying laws in the country. It is crucial that the Minnesota Legislature pass the Safe & Supportive Schools Act this session so that we can create a safe environment for our kids under one of the nation’s most robust anti-bullying laws.

In addition, we must ensure we have adequate school counselors to implement the policies to keep students safe.

The need keeps expanding

A report released by Minnesota 2020 in 2009 showed the rapidly expanding need for mental-health professionals in our schools to support safe and effective learning. According to the report, 92 percent of counselors said a lack of state support is the leading challenge facing school counselors. In addition, more than 90 percent of them had helped students address interpersonal and family problems, depression, aggressive or disruptive behavior, anxiety, and ADHD.

The Minnesota School Counselors Association will work with Gov. Dayton and the Legislature in 2014 to continue advocating for additional school counselors to help ease excessive caseloads, fulfill students’ needs, and increase everyone’s chance for success.

David Warner is president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association and an elementary school counselor in the Osseo School District.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Tim Milner on 02/14/2014 - 06:21 pm.

    While I think you may have a point

    your article does not really make a case for why more counselors are needed. Not trying to be snarky, just trying to help you make a better case.

    It would seem at its fundamental level, the state should fund more counselors if the number of students needing help are not being seen in a reasonable amount of time and with the proper amount of time allocated for counseling the studnet’s issue(s). But you offer no statistics to show that.

    Rather you offer:

    * fact that we are 48th in the number of counselors. But that has no real bearing if all the kids needing counselors are being seen already with existing staff. Some kids don’t need much help – others need tons. A better case might be comparing the number of students seen per day verses numbers seen per day at other schools in other states. Maybe a national organization standard for how many kids should be seen per day. Or maybe hours worked per day. Or days students wait to get an appointment. But some measure that says there are students not getting the help the need in a prompt manner.

    * fact that 90% feel the lack of state support is their biggest challenge. Why? At the basic level its counselor and student. There is no one from the state in the room. So what is the real issue? Is the paperwork onerous? Are the rules/limitations/ of what they can do hampering their ability to meet students needs? Is the pay inadequate? Are there kids not being seen? Again, I encourage you to make a clear case for what the state is doing to inhibit and/or not allow you to be most efficient.

    I think if you can present data that answers those types of questions, you will be a long way toward a getting reasonable response to the needs you see for more counselors.

  2. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 02/15/2014 - 06:51 am.

    I need a tax break

    Counselors cost money!
    They cut into the athletic budget and the money we have for sports!
    I need a tax break so I can get a bigger snowmobile for my trips out west and fly first class when I go south for the winter.
    Don’t you understand how much it costs to heat and A-C a home of several thousand square feet.?
    Remember every dollar spent on taxes is one dollar less I have to buy new Ar-15’s and handguns!
    God Bless America!

  3. Submitted by Peter Rachleff on 02/15/2014 - 07:21 am.

    School counselors

    I believe this is one of the key demands of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers in their current contract negotiations with the city’s school administration. The teachers are also asking for an increase in the number of librarians, which is similarly dreadfully low. Such “support” personnel are critical to the quality of education. The superintendent has insisted that the district does not have the resources to expand such positions. Why is she not calling on the state, which has such budget surpluses that Democratic leaders, such as Governor Dayton, now advocate tax cuts, to provide the necessary resources to hire counselors and librarians? The public needs to become more aware of the teachers’ union’s role in leading a campaign for improving public education.

  4. Submitted by bea sinna on 02/15/2014 - 09:28 am.

    Why do schools need more counselors?
    1. kids bully
    2. kids are bullied commit suicide
    4. kids bring guns to school and shoot people
    5. kids spend more time playing video games, text-messaging than they do looking at or talking with other human beings suffer their parents’ mental illnesses
    7. kids witness violence in the media, in schools, on the street, in sports, at home
    8. the old go-to-school-get-good-grades-go- to- college-get a good job road in life is full of pot holes
    9. good role models for kids are rare (Justin Bieber needs a school counselor!)
    10. class “warfare” is as prevalent in the schools as it is in Washington D.C.
    11. kids are angry and they’re not sure why………

  5. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 02/15/2014 - 10:54 am.

    School Counselors

    Our educational funding has not kept up with the inflationary pressures and costs. School Counselors are no longer just counseling but have become Administrators filling in slots that are not being funded. The demands are greater than ever on School Counselors especially in low income and immigrant districts. It’s not just about money, it is about how our educational system is set up. I don’t think statistical analysis, as mentioned, by Tim Miller earlier has much to do with a educational system that is failing by every measure against every other industrial country in the world. It is time to step up and provide the services needed to insure a well educated community.

  6. Submitted by Barry Stern on 02/16/2014 - 01:48 pm.

    School counselors

    As one who has advocated more career information and guidance throughout his career, I have two inconvenient opinions for those who subscribe to the author’s point of view:

    1. States and local school districts will never have the money to hire enough counselors. To become more than course schedulers, school counselors must leverage resources from the web, area businesses and social service organizations. In short, they need to become entrepreneurial. They rarely will have time for one-to-one counseling.

    2. Most school counseling should take place in classrooms, but the classrooms must look very different that they do today. Here are some characteristics of what high schools will look like once they decide to leave behind the century-old factory model:

    • High intensity/immersion – 25-60 students remain with an interdisciplinary team of 3-5 instructors and support staff for 4 – 8 hours a day. Instructors, including those with career development expertise, will provide career and personal counseling.
    • Team-taught, cross-disciplinary projects/lessons. Instructors co-teach and fully integrate the teaching of 2-3 disciplines along with computer applications, career development and interpersonal skills (e.g. teamwork, customer service, conflict resolution, job readiness). Students apply skills to solving workplace-type problems as well as those that arise through community service projects.
    • Courseware-assisted – instructors integrate (off the shelf) courseware and other software with classroom instruction; helps accelerate, differentiate and manage instruction.
    • Thinking styles – students learn how to apply their style and high performance pattern to accelerate learning, function effectively on teams and choose their career;
    • Emotional intelligence & soft skills – interpersonal relations, teamwork, customer service, time management, conflict de-escalation/resolution all integrated with academic program
    • Computer applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) integrated with instruction in academic disciplines
    • Placement assistance (“social contract”) – school staff helps completers (those who meet academic, attendance and attitudinal requirements) transition to higher level high school courses, college and/or career-entry jobs; staff follows up for 6 months to ensure graduates’ success at the next level.

    There is such a program that could serve as a template for integrating basic skills preparation with career development and counseling (see

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