In school counselors, Minnesota’s way behind


We live in an exceptional state. Most of the time, this is a good thing – when it comes to most quality of life measures, Minnesota ranks way up there. It’s surprising when we come in last for good things. Unfortunately, we just did.

As the Pioneer Press reports, Minnesota is dead last in its counselor-student ratio at the elementary level. Despite the importance of the elementary school years for, well, pretty much everything, Minnesota only has one licensed school counselor for every 3,428 students. That puts us dead last in the country.

It might be possible to claim that we’ve just been slow getting on the elementary counseling bandwagon, but our upper-grades rankings aren’t much better. Along with California and Arizona, we’re in the bottom tier of K-12 students per counselor.

There are a couple of interconnected likely reasons for this. The first is budget. Minnesota’s been cutting its state support to schools for about a decade, to tune of 13% (post-inflation) since 2003. This forces school districts to make tough choices. They cut programs (and staff). They fiddle with break schedules or impose dramatic changes to weekly schedules in the hopes of saving on energy or other costs. They cut teachers. And they cut non-teacher staff like counselors.

The other reason is the preeminence we place on a narrow set of outcomes. Most of the things school counselors do are hard to visualize in connection with test scores (even though they often do help). Because there isn’t a direct line between counselors and the measurements we’ve elevated to undue prominence, cutting counselors is often a politically safer step than most of the rest.

Of course, counselors do play a significant – and increasingly proactive – role in helping students. They more than anybody else in the school setting have the background to help students develop coping skills and address often severe emotional needs. These services are vital to students’ long-term prospects, but they’ve become a casualty of the mindset that wants test scores for the least money possible.

Doing the right thing in education shouldn’t be about budgets or test scores. It should be about giving our kids everything possible to help them succeed.