Wednesday, April 4, 2018

So, You Don’t Really Want More Counselors?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Last week’s blog outlined the incredible opportunity counselors have been given to get the one thing they have asked for more than anything else—more counselors. After years of begging, pleading, and even crying, there’s now a window of opportunity for counselors to ask state officials to use a Federal grant to hire more counselors, and bring down the ratios counselors claim to be THE reason why they can’t get more done with students.

The response to this news has been astonishingly skeptical. Let’s break it down.

Claim: Congress didn’t mean for that money to be used to hire more school counselors.
Response: They sure did. By almost tripling the amount of money in a grant program known as Title IV Part A, Congress opened the door for states to use the money for services that would strengthen schools. This includes things like offering AP classes, improving STEM classes, adding art and music courses, making schools safer, and strengthening mental health programs. An official at the US Department of Education was unequivocal; when asked if the money could be used to hire more counselors, his answer was yes.

Claim: But not all of the money is going to go to hiring more counselors.
Response: Probably not. It’s up to the states to decide what to request the money for, and given the current situation in schools, there’s a good chance many states will use most of the funds to make schools physically safer. Of course, counselors play a major role in making schools safer, and now is the time to point that out, as states develop master plans for safer schools.

Claim: But if we ask for the money, we’ll make enemies out of other groups that want the money for other purposes.
Not if the request is done the right way. It’s certainly true we’ll offend other educators and allies if counselors say “Give it all to us!” On the other hand, if we need more counselors—and we do—we’re not really serving our students by remaining silent. Making our case is part of the give-and-take of public policy, and reaching out to other groups to talk about how to use the grant gets the conversation off on the right foot. We can be nice people, and still ask for what our students need from us.

Claim: Federal money is an unreliable source of funding for jobs. It could disappear next year.
Response: All the more reason to ask for more counselors now. This funding could disappear next fiscal year (which actually starts this October), but using the current funding to hire counselors creates an opportunity to generate data on the difference these counselors make for however long the positions are funded. That data can then be used to show our state legislators the difference more counselors makes—and suddenly, we’re making a case for state funding of these positions, a source which is more stable.

Claim: More counselors won’t matter if we’re still forced to do things like schedule changes.
Response: So stop changing schedules. Most grant funding allows for the creation of conditions—so, you could say any counselors hired with these funds can’t be engaged in non-counseling duties. That creates a chance to collect data on how productive counselors are when all they’re doing is working with students—and more data to argue for continued state funding of counselors.

When we work with students, we know all solutions have multiple parts. More counselors may be just part of the solution, but it’s a big part. Don’t look past this tremendous opportunity.

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