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School counselors request state funding for mental health teams

A bill presented Tuesday would give each school more funding to hire mental health professionals in 2024.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor per 250 kids but Minnesota's average is more than double that. There are approximately 570 kids per counselor. 

Knowing this, Keela Kuhlers testified at the Capitol Tuesday to request funding not just for counselors, but also for other mental health professionals at all public schools.

"I game plan how to inhale my lunch in a few minutes so I can squeeze in one more student in the day," she told the Senate Education Finance Committee.

Kuhlers has been a school counselor for 12 years and says the need for team mental health care has increased in recent years as mental health issues appear to have worsened due to a variety of reasons including the pandemic.

"Self-harm statements and a lot of self-harm behaviors have increased quite a bit," she said in an interview with KARE 11. "Kids really need that multilayer of support, which comes from counselors and social workers and psychologists and nurses."

Yet, many Minnesota schools don't have that full team and some don't have even one counselor, she says.

"About half of our schools in Minnesota have a school counselor," Kuhlers said.

According to the American School Counselor Association, Minnesota ranks fourth-worst in the nation for counselor-to-student ratios. Kuhlers explained that she previously advocated for better ratios in her district, St. Paul Public Schools, and the situation improved.

"The majority of my career, I've been one to about 600 students," she said. "We were able to utilize some of the American Rescue Plan Act Money … [Now] there's another person that's here half-time so my ratio is now probably closer to the mid-to-upper 300s."

Now, she and other mental health workers are supporting a bill that would increase funding for mental health teams. It's what brought them to the Capitol to testify.

"This bill provides ongoing sustainable funding to every school district and charter school in Minnesota to allow schools to prioritize these supports," said State Sen. John Hoffman, (DFL) D-34, a chief author of the bill. "Districts would receive the dedicated funding, at least $50,000 to hire a nurse, school counselor, chemical dependency counselor, social worker, and/or psychologist."

The bill was introduced Jan. 9 before moving to the Education Finance Committee. One Republican and four Democrats, including Hoffman, are co-authors.

"If we have that funding to be able to advocate towards that then families are better served," Kuhlers said.

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