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Pa. State Rep. Introduces School Counselor Legislation, Hopes to Improve Ratio.

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Looking to address one outstanding issue plaguing the public school system in Pennsylvania – and particularly in Philadelphia, where the School District of Philadelphia undertook extensive austerity measures to balance its budget, including laying off crucial support staff – Pennsylvania State Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) has introduced legislation earlier this month to end the school counselor shortage.

Boyle’s legislation, Pa. House Bill 1844, establishes standards by which counselors are assigned. According to Boyle, no such statute currently exists in Pennsylvania.

Boyle’s bill also takes square aim at the evaporating public school budget.

“The budget cuts over the past several years have created a situation where schools are often targeting counselors for layoffs. This is due to a lack of standards on how many students should be assigned to a counselor. This harms students academically and socially. These professionals face some of the biggest challenges in the education field, and play an integral role in our children’s education and development,” Boyle said via a statement released by his office. “The fewer counselors our schools have, the more students are assigned to a counselor.

“For instance, at Central High School in Philadelphia, there are two counselors for 2,400 students,” Boyle continued. “There is no way students can receive proper attention or guidance for their future. My legislation will make sure that we have enough counselors for every student in Pennsylvania to thrive and receive the attention they need to excel.”

Boyle introduced HB 1844 last November, and the bill currently awaits consideration by the Pennsylvania House Education Committee.

Boyle’s legislation would establish a ratio of one school counselor for every 375 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, and one counselor for every 325 students from ninth to twelfth grade.

“The role counselors fill in our public schools is varied and encompasses elements of academic and career counseling, assistance with course selection and scheduling, as well as advising students confronted with family or academic problems at home and in school. Counselors also work with older students in areas such as chemical dependency prevention and intervention, as well as crisis and mental health counseling,” Boyle wrote in a memo to Harrisburg peers that highlighted the greater purpose for the legislation. “Academic research has demonstrated that there is a positive relationship between access to counseling services and improved academic outcomes in schools. Increased access is also shown to reduce the frequency and severity of student disciplinary incidents. According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), thirteen states have enacted laws that require schools to adhere to a predetermined student/counselor ratio: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Vermont.

“Following a two year probationary period, this legislation would require all public schools in the Commonwealth from kindergarten to eighth grade to provide a one certified school counselor for every 375 students, and all public high schools to provide one certified school counselor for every 325 students…additionally, the role and general duties of school counselors within the Public School Code would be outlined to accurately reflect the broad based nature of their work,” Boyle continued in his memo. “With an overall drop in basic education spending over the past several years affecting the budgets of individual school districts across the Commonwealth, many school counselors have seen their jobs eliminated. This trend has threatened to drive up the ratio of students to counselors and reduce access to counseling services, particularly in cities such as Philadelphia, where the student/counselor ratio is over 600:1.

"This legislation would ensure that counselors are able to offer more of their time and resources to individual students, and would protect students from reduced access to vital counseling services.”

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