State Board of Education pushing for more school counselors

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri State Board of Education is making efforts to help students receive more adequate access to school counselors.  

The Board is considering adjusting the state's student-to-counselor ratio, meaning schools would have more counselors per student.

The state "requirement ratio" is currently set at one counselor per 400 students, with Missouri school counselors currently serving an average of 347 students, according to the American School Counselor Association.

The state school board would adjust that ratio requirement to one counselor per 250 students. It would also change its "recommended" ratio to one counselor per 160 students.

According to Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale, there has been a lot of attention on adjusting these ratios.

"We received an abundance of public comment around these ratios," Neale said.

He said that schools are often spread too thin and that there is an abundance of evidence that more help is needed.

"It is just so clear in so many ways that we need more staff members to support those students," he said.

An MU associate professor in the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology said he was very happy to see the state is taking such measures.

"If we have more counselors, and less students per counselor, largely counselors will have more opportunity to meet with kids on an individual basis, which currently is lacking particularly with crises," Chris Slaten said.

He said counselors do not have enough time to currently deal with many of the larger issues they face, because they have so many kids to manage. 

"Sometimes they do not have enough time to manage all of these kids, and reducing the ratio can enhance the school counselor's ability to do their job," he said.

He noted that violence has also seemed to increase.

"There are some serious mental health issues in schools," Slaten said. "[It is] not just in school shooting tragedies. Kids being violent towards each other in school buildings, an increase in suicide idealization and an increase in suicide attempts in school buildings. And also kids are experiencing depression at higher levels."

Slaten said by adjusting these ratios, counselors will face less stress and will see an increase in job productivity.

"It not only helps kids, it will help counselors," Slaten said. "It will be a win-win for everybody."