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State looks to address school counselor shortage

Posted at 2:08 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 16:08:47-05

BOISE, Idaho — Members of the House Education Committee unanimously approved legislation Monday that's geared to help Idaho schools fill the gaps in hiring school counselor positions across the Gem State.

The legislation, brought forward by Republican Rep. Gary Marshall from Idaho Falls, would allow districts and charters to hire licensed professional and licensed clinical professional counselors to serve in schools.

"This is a very significant thing and something we probably should have done some time ago," Marshall said Monday. "It will be extremely helpful to our school and the student in our schools."

Currently, Idaho law defines a school counselor as anyone who:

  • Met the requirements of an approved program in school guidance and counseling 
  • Graduated from an accredited college or university with a degree in school guidance and counseling  
  • Is a licensed social worker  

Related: National School Counseling Week with Twin Falls School District

Marshall said the new legislation would closer align counseling requirements with those already outlined in Idaho Code for becoming a licensed social worker. Individuals looking to become licensed professional counselors need a master's degree and at least 1,000 hours of experience before being certified.

Last year, the State Department of Education released a report to the federal government detailing how they plan to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and COVID-19 Relief dollars.

According to the report, Idaho has approximately one school counselor per 403 students — nearly double the 250 to 1 recommended ratio. What's more, 39 of the 185 schooling providers in Idaho had no counselors, the report states.

School psychologists are even less available. The SDE report states that 117 of the Gem State's 185 schools — or about 63% — do not have an in-school psychologist. The ratio of school psychologists to students in Idaho is 1704 to 1. The recommended ratio is 500 to 1.

Per SDE data

Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon from Stanley said the legislation could also be a considerable help to rural school districts like those in her community.

"I know we had a lot of testimony from larger school districts, but this is really going to help my rural school districts as well," Mood said. "I remember that we had to share services with Arco and Mackay and up to Salmon and Challis. This is the sort of thing that would really help offer services even if it was on a weekly basis."

Related: West Ada Schools use Pixar characters for social-emotional learning

According to the SDE's Be An Educator website, there are several traditional and nontraditional routes for people looking to become certified school staff.

The website also includes links to various job searching sites that show Idaho schools solicited applications for between 100 and 750 positions last year.

Of those listings, the number of counseling and behavioral health-related positions were roughly:

Marshall's legislation now heads to the full House for debate.