For some kids, the school nurse may be the first adult to detect a vision, hearing or other health problem. An on-site school psychologist can spot the earliest signs of depression, other mental illness or drug problems in children and teens. And most young people can use guidance as they choose classes and make plans for life after high school.
Yet as student needs have increased in Minnesota, school support staff resources have not. In fact, Minnesota schools are way behind other states on that score. State schools have only one counselor for every 782 students — among the worst ratios in the nation. The average student-to-counselor ratio nationally is about 450-1, while the American School Counselor Association recommends a 250-1 ratio.
Gov. Mark Dayton, among others, has cited the counselor shortage as a key weakness in public education in Minnesota.
That’s why a bill proposed in the Legislature to help hire more nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers merits support. Sponsored by Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, the measure would provide matching state resources to pay half the cost of additional support staff. School districts would pay the other half. The state share would last just a few years, with the expectation that the new positions would be absorbed into school budgets. Districts could apply for the funds, and participation would be voluntary. State budget targets have not been set for this session, so a price tag for the hiring help is still under discussion. But it makes sense to invest some portion of this year’s education budget on this worthwhile effort.
Why? Research has demonstrated that students do better academically when physical and mental health services are available in school. More specifically, the services have been shown to increase graduation and attendance rates as well as boost math and reading proficiency. And student access to these important services reduces suspensions, other disciplinary actions and dropout rates.
Last year, Kent’s bill was approved by the Senate, but the companion House bill was not heard in committee. This session, the proposal should be fully discussed and approved. Minnesota kids need and deserve more support.