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Bill Seeks To Provide More Counselors For Minn. Students

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- State lawmakers are trying to figure out how to double the number of school counselors in the Minnesota.

According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) the number of students in Minnesota far outweighs the number of counselors available. The ratio is the third-worst in the country.

Inside her office at Nellie Stone Johnson School in Minneapolis, Elizabeth Franklin is responsible for 800 K-8 students.

"All schools would benefit from more support staff," she said.

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) does not have any school counselors for students before high school, so Franklin uses her role as a mental health therapist from the Washburn Center for Children to meet with students dealing with tough situations.

"Even if they're having a hard time with family they can still do their job and be successful," Franklin said.

Most schools do not have mental health professionals on staff full time, so that is why Franklin and some lawmakers feel school counselors play a critical role.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Newton thinks many students are not getting the attention they need from school counselors because the counselors simply do not have the time to meet with all students regularly.

"We don't have enough counselors and we have kids slipping through cracks," Newton said. "We can't afford more mental illness crises and suicides or kids who should be on the path to college who are not being seen."

Newton used to serve on the school board for Anoka-Hennepin Schools, the largest district in the state.
The district garnered national attention after seven students took their own lives between September 2009 and May 2011 and has since provided more mental health resources in schools. But there is still just one counselor per 1,000 students in the district, close to the state average.

According to the American School Counselor Association, the student to school counselor ratio in Minnesota is 792 to 1. The national average is 460 to 1.

The group's recommended average is 250 to 1.

Newton has authored a bill that would mandate districts have a ratio of 400 to 1, which is closer to the national average.

"I'm trying to have something that is going to get through and get passed," Newton said.

But exactly how much money the state or individual districts would pay for more staff will be up for debate within the next month at the Capitol.

Newton estimates the average school counselor earns about $60,000 per year, so doubling the number of school counselors in the state would cost several millions of dollars per year.

Franklin said this would be an investment in the future, without which students and staff will continue to struggle to keep up.

"Everybody gets stretched thinner," she said.

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