HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — As part of a series of budget amendments, Governor Ralph Northam is proposing to add $36 million to hire more school counselors across the state.
If approved, this would be the first installment over the course of three years to increase the number of counselors to a ratio recommended by the State Board of Education to the General Assembly in 2017.
Virginia lawmakers did not move to adopt the change, which would have been put into Virginia’s educational Standards of Quality.
The current ratio in Virginia schools is about one counselor to every 425 students, K-12, according to state education officials.
“That ratio is unacceptable because there are too many needs,”Northam said. His goal would be to have smaller caseloads for counselors, at a one to 250 ratio.
“The role of the school counselor has really changed over the last several years. It is no longer just scheduling and basic supports,” said Dr. Michael Gill, the Superintendent of Hanover County Public Schools.
School counselors do everything from talk to students about college preps to mental health checks. Increasing the number of these staffers is becoming a priority for the leaders of the Commonwealth.
Northam describes counselors as the “ears for our education system,” since students meet with them frequently.
While many schools have School Resource Officers on campus, officials says it’s not just about physical safety and security.
“We should be fostering strong relationships and insuring that our school-based professionals have the training and resources that they need,” Northam said.
Northam is also proposing to set aside $3.3 million to the Virginia Center for School Campus Safety, which provides training for educators, school resource officers and additional active shooter training.
It will also add funding for a threat assessment case management tool, which tracks and reports data that will allow schools and state leaders to better understand these safety issues.
Northam says he got many of these ideas from the Children’s Cabinet and a school safety task force he formed. There is also work going on in the House of Delegates on this topic.
The House Select Committee on School Safety, spearheaded by Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District), developed 24 recommendations of safety, security and mental health issues facing schools. One of them focuses on increasing the time school counselors spend with students, which Cox says could be more cost-effective in the long term.
Cox released the following statement on the topic:
“School counselors are a critical component of school safety and the Select Committee heard from many who said they were spending too much of their time on non-counseling services. Our first priority should be making sure our current counselors are spending the majority of their time actually counseling, rather than on administrative tasks. The Select Committee has recommended realigning school counselor responsibilities so that they are spending at least 80% of their time counseling, which would effectively lower the ratio since that would provide counselors more time to work with more students.”
-House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District)
Proposals from Northam and lawmakers still have to make it through session. The governor says bottom line, the goal is the same when it comes to keeping kids safe in the classroom.
“What I think you’ll see is that we’ve been reading from the same sheet of music and we’ll be working together,” Northam added.
State revenue is higher than anticipated, so Northam hopes to pay for these initiatives with that money. The governor’s office expects more funds to come in once the Commonwealth fully implements federal changes to the tax code and from online sales tax legislation, that still needs to be signed off by the General Assembly.
Northam will be sharing the rest of his proposals with lawmakers who oversee the appropriations committees next Tuesday.