Minnesota needs to increase K-12 counselors

Minnesota schools are seeing a disturbing trend as they attempt to offer students needed help with bullying, depression and addiction. In each of these cases, the first line of defense and support are school counselors. Unfortunately, our schools lack the proper financial resources to keep up with our students’ needs.
According to a recent report from the Minnesota Association of School Counselors, the average ratio of students to counselors in the state is about 800 to 1. This ratio places Minnesota at second to last in the nation.
As well trained as our counselors are, 800 students for every one counselor is simply unmanageable and frankly, unfair to both counselors and students. There are too many students attempting to manage stressful family or school situations on their own and too many counselors who are overburdened with student needs and state testing demands.
Junior and senior high school is a very difficult time for teenagers as they face bullying, preparation for college, pressure from extracurricular activities, and unresolved problems at home. In fact, more than 90 percent of counselors say they have helped students with family problems, depression, aggressive or disruptive behavior or anxiety issues in the past 12 months. And, lack of counselors increases drop-out risks, which in turn hurts not only students, but in the long run our state’s economy and business competitiveness.
These are issues no teenager should have to face alone. It is time for Minnesota to reverse this trend and give our students the proper support as they navigate a very stressful period of life.
The questions now are: “How did we get here and where do we go from here?” The answer to the first question is simple. Our schools do not have the proper financial resources to hire enough counselors. As school officials attempt to make budget cuts without increasing class sizes, our counselors are often the first to be cut.
Increasing funding for our schools is of course no simple task. The nation-wide recession has lead to budget deficits throughout the country and Minnesota is no exception. Before we can begin to resolve our school’s counselor needs, we have to pay back the debt we currently have to our schools. From there, we need to work with our school districts to find real solutions to their budgets. It is an uphill battle, but it is one that is worth fighting.
We can’t simply sit back and watch as students fall through the cracks. Our counselors are willing and able to provide the support, but we need to ensure that they have the proper resources to be effective.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions about any issue. Please visit my Senate website at senate.mn/senatorwiger. I also encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?,” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16.

Senator Chuck Wiger
Chuck Wiger represents District 43, which includes portions of Ramsey and Washington counties in the northeastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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