SB277, offered by Senator Jim Merritt, will be voted on this Wednesday, January 28th by the Indiana Senate Education Committee. The bill “requires a school corporation to employ at least one school counselor at each elementary school, not including private or charter schools, maintained by the school corporation.” This would required your child’s public elementary school (grades K-6) to hire a full-time school counselor at a salary of $51,000 plus 30% in benefits, putting the total cost per counselor at $66,300. The fiscal note submitted to the legislature places the total cost of the program to be $60 million. Remember, there is no additional funding provided by this bill, the state mandates the hire and the local school must pay for it.
School budgets should be spent wisely. If schools have a need for a school counselor, and it is within their means to hire one, they should. If they do not have the need or prefer to hire one part-time, that decision should be left to the local school- not mandated by legislators. Last time I checked, Republicans and Governor Pence were calling for more local control and this doesn’t fit the bill.
Testimony given to Senate Education Committee last week portrayed the role of a school counselor as one that helps with the social and emotional needs of students, and schools would be better able to address these needs if this legislation was passed. However, if the intent behind SB277 is to increase mental services available to elementary students, why did it exclude school social workers and school psychologist from meeting the requirement? These professionals specialize in the areas of social-emotional interventions. School counselors, on the other hand, typically specialize in class scheduling, college planning, etc. A likely consequence of this bill will be the replacement of social workers and psychologists on staff with a school counselor who is less credentialed to treat mental health issues. It’s unlikely a school would be able to afford both.
So, if the bill doesn’t increase the number of professionals best suited to address the mental health issues of young children, what is the reason for it? The answer may lie in a report issued by The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, who supports the bill, titled Indiana School Counseling Not Meeting Needs of Postsecondary Students. The report contends that an increase in the number of school counselors is necessary to get more young people on track to college and career readiness. Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, Theresa Lubbers, is quoted in the report stating:
“As policymakers, we are increasingly focused on the need for students to be college and career ready,” says Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education. “The problem is that too many students and families still don’t know what that means. This report highlights the need to redesign the counseling model, freeing counselors to focus more on readiness responsibilities rather than administrative tasks.”
One could easily agree that providing mental health services to children is important, but what about the need to provide career and college counseling to children aged 5-12? Both the Chamber’s report and those who testified in support of SB277 stressed the importance of a school counselor to provide career counseling and help educate these young children on what their options are for the future. Yes, students need to set goals and understand their options for work and life, but in elementary school these kids are still very little. Do we really need for a child at age 8 or 9 to decide or even to plan for their careers? Additionally, what’s wrong with having students’ parents or professionals from the community come into the classroom and talk about their careers. This is the type of career exploration that young kids respond to- and it’s free!
Shouldn’t the priority in elementary school be teaching them the fundamentals, like reading, writing, math, history and science that are essential for any career? Hoosier parents don’t want to spend $60 million on school counselors to help set a career path for their third grader. They believe that money would be better spent adding back many of the fine arts and music programs that have been cut so that kids have an opportunity to experience subjects that they might be interested in pursuing.
Call the members of the Senate Education Committee and voice your opposition to SB277. Numbers are below:
SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE:
Dennis Kruse, Chairman - Senator.Kruse@iga.in.gov
Carlin Yoder, Vice Chair - Senator.Yoder@iga.in.gov
Jean Leising - Senator.Leising@iga.in.gov
Pete Miller - Sen.PeteMiller@iga.in.gov
Jeff Raatz - Senator.Raatz@iga.in.gov
Scott Schneider - Senator.Schneider@iga.in.gov