Action has been needed in our public schools for years to:
- Reduce the counselor to student ratio which was last reported at 905 to 1.
- Help children as they transition from childhood to adulthood as they plan for college, careers, and life.
- Halt and turn back the increase in student suicides.
- Prevent more school shootings and other emergencies that threaten the public’s safety.
Earlier in the 2019 legislative session, a bipartisan group of State Senators led by Democrat Sean Bowie and Republicans J.D. Mesnard and Jeff Weninger helped secure the passage of a bill that will require all school staff personnel that deals with children in grades six through twelve receive training in suicide prevention.
Yesterday (August 26, 2019), the Arizona State Board of Education acted as well when its members uniamously approved the distribution of $20,000,000 in grants to qualifying Arizona Public Schools that are in need of additional school counselors or school resource officers.
This move also had widespread bipartisan support including Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Republican Governor Doug Ducey and is a testament to the possibility of positive actions that stem from public service when all sides work together.
After the Board Meeting, Superintendent Hoffman released a statement which said:
“Over the past two months, the Department of Education worked closely with the Governor’s Office, State Board of Education staff, and other stakeholders to develop a plan to get new money for school counselors, social workers, and school resource officers to schools as quickly as possible. Today, the State Board unanimously approved that plan and districts will be able to apply for these new funds in the coming weeks. I applaud the Governor, lawmakers, and advocates for prioritizing these issues during the last legislative session, and I look forward to finding ways to build on this work in the months ahead. Our students are counting on us to ensure their mental health and physical safety – we cannot let them down.”
Other members of the Education, Public Service, and Mental Health Communities offered their views on yesterdays board actions.
Maricopa County Education Committee Head Jennifer Chastain
“I am happy to see this money going to an important part of our schools. We need to support our students in all aspects, including mental health counselors.”
JEM Foundation Founder Denise Denslow
“We are thrilled that more money is being given to counselors in our schools. This is a huge step in the right direction. It is beyond needed to help our youth not only for suicide prevention but to ensure we can help identify a child before they reach a crisis stage. With the passage of SB1468, we are going to have more eyes on our children which is fantastic, but now we’re going to have an issue on where to send these children for help. It is important to learn how to keep our children safe for now with suicide prevention training, but without proper care, we can’t possibly keep them safe forever. We often speak with parents and HS students and there is often confusion about where a child or adult can go for help or to report behavioral health issues within their school. If a child is not feeling well physically we know that they can go to a nurse, we don’t see that same type of assurance with regards to mental health issues. This is just another way more counselors can help.”
“We believe this is a good start but we would like to see additional funding to implement more counselors. We know that funding is always a concern, but ideally, we would like to see a mental health counselor in every school in the state.”
Legislative District 18 State Representative Mitzi Epstein
“Denise hit the nail on the head. We definitely need more teams of people in schools to help children avoid social and emotional problems and to help them through it after a traumatic event. The teams should include a school nurse, school counselor, school psychologist, and school social worker. However, some students also need ongoing treatment with mental health professionals, and they are not available. Further, it looks like the shortage is getting worse, not better. That is why we are working to develop solutions to this workforce problem.”
“I am feeling very optimistic that the addition of more personnel will help students. This $20 million grant will be a good start.”
2020 Maricopa County School Superintendent Candidate Jeanne Casteen
“I had a student a few years ago who was a brilliant writer. Her poetry was raw, filled with imagery, and alluded to difficulties at home. She started the year strong, but recently, had begun falling asleep in class. I went to her, asked what was going on, and she shared that her mom had just gotten out of prison. She couldn’t find a job or housing, so the family had moved in with an aunt and uncle. They had three kids and were also taking care of her grandmother. My student and her brother had to move from their dad’s house as he was recently deported. I learned in my conversation with her that my student was sleeping on a loveseat in the living room where her older brother slept on the couch. There were nine people living in a two-bedroom apartment. She was tired all the time, angry at her mom, anxious about a system that seemed designed to keep her off her feet, and terrified for her father, who she hadn’t spoken within weeks. In that same school setting, there was one counselor for over 850 students. This is just one story of a child in need, and I have hundreds more.”
“While this $20,000,000 grant is nice, it doesn’t do nearly enough. Anxiety and depression among adolescents have increased over the last five years by nearly 60%. Teachers and schools are expected to do more with less, and we need more counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. We still have one of the worst student-to-counselor ratios in the nation, and it’s time the AZ Legislature and Governor stop creating unnecessary tax cuts and fully fund education to give our kids access to the services they so desperately need.”
2020 Legislative District 23 Democratic House Candidate Eric Kurland
Save Our Schools Communication Director Dawn Penich-Thacker
“This funding for school counselors is a huge step forward, although, like all of our recent funding initiatives, we as a state are so far behind that even a big step forward means we are still just a little better than last place. Prior to this funding, Arizona has had the worst student to counselor ratio in the entire country. Even with an additional $20 million, Arizona will still be near at the bottom in this category. Supporting students is far more than just test scores, so this funding is a very welcome, crucial component of serving Arizona’s at 1.1 million public school students. It’s important we see it for what it is: a step in the right direction but by no means a reason to stop advocating for increased public school funding.”