Between September 16th and 27th, you may have noticed your school counselors missing from your school site, your grants manager may not having been communicating with anyone, staff members may have been pulled off campus to attend urgent meetings. This would be because schools had 11 days to complete and submit a grant proposal for school safety officers, social workers, or school counselors. Schools will know as early as October 28 if they are granted staff and will have until the 20-21 school year begins to hire this staff. According to the ADE, 896 applications were submitted by 284 districts and charter schools to be a part of the $20 million grant.
This is all very exciting and it is excellent that the legislature, Governor’s Office, ADE, and SBE all agree more counselors and social workers are needed, and they are needed now. However, let’s just think about counselors to make our math simple. When we look closer at the $20 million that was budgeted via a grant process and divide that by $50,000 which is a rough cost of a counselor with benefits, AZ will only be hiring 400 new counselors. In total, the grant requests totaled close to $100 million, five times more than granted. This initial flow of counselors must simply be the start, not the end.
As this grant hits, there will be a need for counselors in schools across Arizona. We are excited about the new certification process that makes it easier to become a school counselor by broadening the Master’s degrees allowed for certification and to allow for deficiencies for specific coursework. This is an exciting time for schools, and one in which schools will have to work very hard to make sure they are staffing these positions with the best they can find. As a rural district leader, the stakes are even higher, assuming the grant is funded. Finding those able to get counseling certificates may be a challenge.
This grant simply cannot be the end. First, let’s find an easier way to get schools the money other than grants. Districts should not have to take on more work for safety measures that should just be available through regular funding. A leadership and counseling team should not have to disappear for a week to work through a grant. That is not the best use of school time. Especially a grant that at this time, many likely will not receive. Second, we will simply need more counselors and more trained counselors to work in our schools. For my school district, we are hopeful to get elementary school counselors with our grant, but we were not able to also address the 500-student-to-counselor ratio in our middle and high schools. Finally, as a school community we must address the underlying issues that are the reasons why we need more counselors. How are we partnering with families and community to support children at home and at school? What are we doing to make sure that all children have the social-emotional support needed to ensure they receive an excellent education?
Here is to a first step in supporting the whole-child in Arizona. We have many more to go.