(Source: MIRS.news, Published 09/14/2023) One school counselor would need to be employed for every 250 students enrolled under Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Ann Arbor)’s HB 4081.
School counselors are an integral part of the fabric that is woven to support students, Brabec said during her testimony in Thursday’s House Health Policy Behavioral Health Subcommittee.
When they assist students with class schedules, post-secondary education goals and workforce preparation, they also address things like peer pressure, bullying, and the beginnings of mental health illnesses.
Brabec, the subcommittee's chair, said on a recent visit to a high school in her district that the students she spoke to told her how vital it was to have their school counselors not only for academic help and making decisions for their future, but also for referring them to the student health center to get more support for mental health.
In the 2022-23 school year, Michigan averaged a 1:604 ratio of counselors to students, according to the House Fiscal Analysis, which estimates that about 3,700 additional counselors would need to be hired to fulfill the bill’s requirement.
Subcommittee Minority Vice Chair Rep. Kathy Schmaltz (R-Jackson) said the policy sounds great on the surface, but through conversations with superintendents in her district, they can’t find teachers, bus drivers, nurses or resource officers, and budgets would prevent them from affording additional school counselors.
“Another superintendent was worried that school districts would get into bidding wars over getting a school counselor from this district because there aren’t enough counselors,” Schmaltz said.
Brabec said she and Rep. Kimberly Edwards (D-Eastpointe) would be introducing a bill on master’s social workers’ (MSW) licensure soon, based on testimony heard earlier in the year.
“Part of it is when people hear this they think ‘Oh no, we can’t possibly do this,’ but I think it is achievable,” Brabec said.
Brabec said increasing the number of school counselors would also lighten the caseload for existing school counselors, allowing them to connect more with fewer students.
“If we’re talking with a student who is failing their math class, maybe they’re failing math because they’re not good at math, but also they might be failing math because there are issues going on at home. It might be that there’s somebody in the classroom that is upsetting them, maybe they had a breakup that’s affecting them,” said Samantha Zill, legislative communication co-chair of the Michigan School Counselor Association. “We look at how everything is connected so that we can fully support the student.”
Brabec said the bill still needs work to figure out funding mechanisms and how to help schools manage. “I wanted to bring this before you so we can get this conversation started publicly.”