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State takes steps to better fund school psychologists and social workers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The school year begins in less than a week for many kids all over Utah.  Districts are finding the teachers they need to fill the classrooms, but, do they have enough counselors?

The recommendation set by the American School Counselor Association is to have one counselor for every 250 students.  However, recent reports show the average counselor is seeing roughly double the number of students they should, with a national average of 500 to one.

There are districts within the state of Utah, like Alpine and Canyons, that already have enough counselors to handle the school year.  Other positions, like school psychologists and social workers, are harder to fill.  The Canyons School District is still looking for people to fill four school psychologist spots.

District Director of Responsive Services BJ Weller says colleges in Utah aren’t providing enough opportunities for people to become school psychologists.

“When I talked with the University of Utah and BYU, they only accept ten to 12 people into their program a year.  In the state of Utah, if you have 20 to 30 psychologists leaving the profession a year, there’s not enough to cover the difference,” Weller says.

Social workers are even more difficult to find.  Weller says there are essentially no classes available that give people the proper training.  However, they’re trying to change that.

Weller says, “We’ve been working with the University of Utah to create that specific track.  So, individuals earning their Masters Degree in social work can take classes specifically needed to help them become social workers.”

State educators are optimistic about filling these needs in the future.

“We are seeing legislation that is responsive to allocate additional funds to put in more school-based mental health support,” according to Utah Board of Education School Counseling Program Specialist Kim Hererra.

House Bill 373 was designed to provide $16 million this year for schools to increase resources for mental health care

Hererra says, “Next year, it’s going to $26 million and, with that money, [local education agencies] can choose to hire school counselors, social workers, school psychologists or contract with a local mental health agency.”