Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Hard Part of Counselor Advocacy

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

A very important part of the school counselor’s year is coming up soon, and chances are you don’t even know about it.  The good news is, we’re not talking about scheduling or testing.  The bad news is, we’re talking about the political process.

Here’s what’s going on.  Governors all over the country are just about through with their State of the State addresses, speeches based on the State of the Union presentation.  With State of the State, the governor outlines the achievements of last year, and the challenges of the coming year.  No matter the state, this speech inevitably contains some reference to education, the policy issue legislators just can’t leave alone.

New counselors find it promising that education is so popular among lawmakers, but veteran counselors know that the “our children deserve better” part of the annual message is par for the course, where a January promise is long forgotten by fall.  That’s why it’s so important to complete the next step of your state’s domestic policy cycle—funding the promises in the State of the State.

It’s easy to understand why counselors shudder at the prospect of reading a state budget.  Most legislators don’t know which line items fund specific programs, so how can we possibly know?  On the other hand, making sure there’s money for more counselors—a promise made by Arizona and other states—only gets done if someone opens the budget, peers inside, and asks “Where’s the money?”

Believe it or not, that’s all you have to do as your first simple step in holding state government accountable.  You have elected officials who represent your neighborhood in state government.  A quick online search of your state legislature’s home page should get you a phone number to their office in the capitol.  Your job is to call and say this:

“Hello, this is (name), and I’m a school counselor who lives (and works) in the legislator’s district.  I’m calling to ask for your help in locating the line item in the state budget that secures funding for (more school counselors, safe schools, social-emotional learning—whatever you’re interested in), and I’m wondering if that line item has been increased over last year.  Please feel free to call me back at (your phone number.)”

If that script sounds like it was designed for you to leave a message, rather than talk to an actual person, that’s because it is.  Counselors as a whole are conflict-adverse, and the prospect of talking to a legislative office scares them silly.  If you call that office at nine o’clock at night and leave this message, I promise you no one will pick up the phone to speak with you, and I promise someone will call you back with an answer.  That’s their job.

Once you get your answer, things get a little trickier.  If it turns out the budget really does have funding for the project you’re interested in, you’ll now have to go into the budget (that’s usually online) and double check the figures.  If the money doesn’t appear to be anywhere, you’ll now have to track down the education adviser in the governor’s office and ask them for an explanation—and after that, you may have to contact the chair of the Education or Appropriations committees to start asking for the money the governor promised.  That may seem like a lot right now, but once you make your first call, the next one gets easier—and pretty soon, the advocacy you’re doing for your profession feels a lot like the advocacy you do for your students.

So make that call.


  1. Patrick, Could I post this or a modified version to our parent Facebook group to encourage the parents to call about school funding? I think that having a clear set of what to ask would help our parents be more active.

  2. Thank you for asking. Please feel free to use it, if it will help. If you end up editing it, just try to keep the main ideas as the focus. And thank you for caring about the kids and their counselors!