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$15 million for school counselors in Arizona budget ‘a good start’

(AP File Photo)

PHOENIX — The proposed Arizona state budget unveiled this week includes millions of dollars to hire more school counselors as the state grapples with the nation’s worst student-to-counselor ratio.

The $11.9 billion package includes $15 million to hire school counselors or campus resource officers. That tops the $12 million Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had called for to fund 224 school counselors or social workers over a two-year period.

“Any amount of money is a good start,” said Janine Menard, a counselor in the Isaac School District and the chair of the Arizona School Counselors Association.

Menard said the new funds for school counselors would help reduce Arizona’s student-to-counselor ratio, which was 905-to-1 for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the association’s latest numbers.

Nationally, the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455-to-1. The recommended ratio is 250-to-1.

Menard said she’s the only full-time counselor at her K-8 school, and she oversees about 1,100 students.

“Because I have so many students, there’s no way that I can catch every student,” Menard said. “What that means is that there are students who are falling through the cracks.”

She added that’s a major concern for her, especially now that she’s seeing more students with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and panic attacks.

“When they come to school with these heavy issues, it makes it very difficult for them to learn,” she said.

The Arizona School Counselors Association worked with state lawmakers last summer to come up with a bill that called for more funding for school counselors, but the bill was never heard in the Republican-led Legislature.

Menard said the funding for more school counselors included in the state budget makes her feel hopeful.

“We’re now asking the public to reach out to their legislator in their district and demand that school counselors receive funding in order for us to lower that worst-in-the-nation ratio,” she said.

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