AUSTIN, TEXAS (KVEO NEWSCENTER 23) — Three bills filed by Senator Lucio to assist Texas' public school counselors were given hearings before the Senate Committee on Education. The bills — which would reduce the student-to-counselor ratio, require schools to notify parents if there is no counselor on campus, and clean up how the Texas Education code refers to school counselors — will go a long way toward building the comprehensive educational systems that all Texas students deserve. These three bills are part of a package of school counselor bills filed by Senator Lucio.
"I am proud to support Texas public school counselors. I've seen first-hand the tremendous work they do supporting our children, and improving education outcomes," said Senator Lucio, the Vice Chair for the Senate Committee on Education. "Professional school counselors across the state wear many hats. They are responsible for providing information on course selections, as well as advising students on college readiness and financial aid requirements. Most importantly, they provide links between student needs and community resources."
The first bill heard by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, Senate Bill 713, would reduce the student-to-counselor ratios in public schools. It is recommended by the American School Counselor Association that all schools have a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, however, Texas' K-12 student-per-counselor ratio is 440-to-1. Further, current law provides that Texas public schools need only employ one counselor for every 500 elementary school students in the district.
"High student-to-counselor ratios and insufficient staffing of counseling departments limits schools' capacity to deliver counseling to students," said Kenneth Bordelon of the Texas Association for College Admission Counseling, who testified in favor of Senate Bill 713 Tuesday.
Senate Bill 713 would require that school districts with more than 300 students must employ at least one certified counselor for every 300 students in the district. Smaller districts would be permitted to employ part-time certified counselors, or enter into shared services arrangements with one or more districts to share a counselor.
"This bill will ensure that all Texas children have available counseling in their schools. Unfortunately, counselors — especially those serving at-risk students — are often stretched too thin. The larger the counselor's student load, the less individual attention students receive," Senator Lucio said.
The second bill considered Tuesday, Senate Bill 401, would require public schools to notify parents and guardians if there is no counselor on their children's campus. Specifically, the bill would require that if a public school does not have a full-time school counselor, notice of the absence of a counselor must be posted on the Web site of the school district, and the Web site of the campus, if the campus maintains a Web site. This notice should also be in bilingual form.
"This bill is about transparency. Many parents may take for granted that a school will have a counselor available to provide students guidance, as well as be on-hand in case of a crisis. If a school is unable to provide those services, parents should know," Senator Lucio said.
Jan Friese, executive director of the Texas Counseling Association, testified in favor of Senate Bill 401 Tuesday.
"Professional school counselors have two years teaching experience, graduate degrees and the resources to provide students with the comprehensive services they need to develop strong study and organizational skills. Their teaching experience qualifies them to deliver academically rigorous guidance lessons in classroom or group settings. Their counseling experience helps them identify at-risk behaviors and implement appropriate interventions quickly enough to make a difference,” she said.
Senate Bill 715, the final bill considered Tuesday, is a "clean-up" bill intended to make all references to certified "school counselors" consistent throughout the Texas Education Code. Currently, the Code uses inconsistent terms to denote certified school counselors. For example, counselors are sometimes referred to as "guidance counselors" or "high school counselors." These terms are inconsistent with the State Board of Educator Certification (the state body which certifies school counselors), which uses the term "school counselors."
Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston) is a coauthor on Senate Bill 715.
Senate Bills 401, 713, and 715, along with all other bills heard Tuesday, were left pending in the Senate Committee on Education.
Senator Lucio has additionally filed Senate Bill 716, which would enact a ten percent limit on the amount of time counselors must spend on duties not related to counseling. This bill would make clear that time spent administering exams is not considered time spent on counseling or guidance. Senate Bill 716 has also been referred to the Senate Committee on Education.