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Lawmakers bemoan shortage of school counselors

Idaho lawmakers are unhappy that the state’s schools superintendent has resisted moves to add more school counselors to help boost the number of students going on to higher education. In 2010-2011, Idaho had 489 students for every counselor, above the national average of 471 and nearly twice the recommended national standard of 250 – which only three states meet. Washington’s student-to-counselor ratio is even higher, at 510. The recommendations to trim Idaho’s student-to-counselor ratio and add a statewide coordinator for all K-12 school counselors were made in a report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in 2012 as part of an array of moves aimed at encouraging more Idaho kids to go on to further education after high school. But state schools Superintendent Tom Luna rejected both school-counselor recommendations.

“The responsibility for a college-going culture should be all educators in a school, not focused on one person,” Luna wrote in a response to the report, delivered to lawmakers along with a follow-up report Wednesday. “While counselors provide excellent service, it would be difficult to add enough employees to make this recommendation meaningful at this time.”

He cited an Idaho school district where every Friday, “the teachers and staff members proudly sport a T-shirt or sweatshirt from their alma mater,” saying, “This is more than just a T-shirt. It is the beginning of a conversation throughout the day, where every teacher and staff member engages students in a discussion about the importance of post-secondary education. … This is just one example I have seen that could easily be duplicated across the state and that ensures every staff member is involved in the success of students after high school – not just the school counselor.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took issue with Luna’s response, as did Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’m concerned,” Mortimer said. “I think we have to look at our counselors and their roles – I believe they may be doing too much administrative issues, and not enough counseling. … It’s a critical portion of getting our students to go on.” The state Board of Education has set increasing Idaho’s dismally low number of students who go on to any type of higher education after high school as its top goal. You can read my full story here at

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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