How much would it cost to fully staff mental health professionals in Idaho schools?

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In a press release sent to reporters last month, Idaho Education Association president Layne McInelly called on Gov. Brad Little to spend a record $ 900 million surplus on education spending. The union wants smaller class sizes, less reliance on bonds and levies and, most importantly, more mental health support staff.

Robin Corder, School Psychologist of the Year in Idaho in 2020.

“Idaho schools are sorely lacking in counselors and psychologists at a time when students need more support than ever for their mental and emotional health,” McInelly wrote in the press release.

Idaho’s ratios of school counselors and psychologists per student are well below staffing levels recommended by national organizations, as are the state’s ratios for other student service personnel, such as school nurses and nurses. social workers.

According to a recent report from the state’s Department of Education to the federal government, Idaho has:

  • 403 students per school counselor. The recommended ratio is 250 to 1.
  • 1,704 students per school psychologist. The recommended ratio is 500 to 1.
  • 1,825 students per school nurse. The National Association of School Nurses recommended a ratio of 1 nurse for 750 healthy students, and higher ratios for students with more complex needs. (The association currently says that using a student-to-nurse ratio alone is “not evidence-based or appropriate.” EdNews will use the student-to-nurse ratio for consistency with our other calculations.)
  • 5,822 pupils per school social worker. The recommended ratio is 250 to 1.

* Note that current ratios count part-time and full-time positions, and do not include professionals who are hired by external vendors to work with school children.

So how much would it cost to fully staff all of these positions?

EdNews used average Idaho salaries (and an additional 20% for benefits) to calculate how much it would cost to staff these four positions at recommended levels.

According to our calculations, it would cost roughly:

  • $ 30.5 million to reach the recommended ratio of school counselors to staff, who had an average salary of about $ 54,437 last year.
  • $ 33 million to reach the school psychologist ratio, for an average salary of $ 63,413.
  • $ 14.8 million to school nurses at the 1-750 ratio. Nurses earn an average of $ 51,176 per year.
  • $ 85 million to reach the suggested ratio of school social workers, whose average salary is around $ 60,166.

In total, achieving the recommended ratios for all positions would cost over $ 160 million per year.

(The State Board of Education estimates it would cost closer to $ 126.5 million, if each position cost $ 46,415, which is the average career ladder payout for student services staff.)

Greg Wilson, education advisor for Little, says reducing the problem to dollar signs and ratios overlooks two key issues: Idaho’s challenges in finding qualified professionals for these locations and local control.

“We have a recruitment and retention challenge for many different positions within a school district,” Wilson said. Urban districts in places like Treasure Valley probably have an easier time finding and hiring school psychologists, he said, than smaller, more remote districts in Idaho.

Hiring decisions are also made by local school administrators. Even if heads of state decided to invest in aligning these ratios, “it wouldn’t necessarily be a sure thing to happen,” Wilson said. Districts decide who to hire with career funds, and when one district could hire a school nurse with more state money, another district could decide to use the money for a different staff position.

Wilson said the governor’s pledge to fund the Idaho educator salary scale was a step in helping districts recruit professional educators and support staff, and that supporting student behavioral health is a goal. permanent for Little.

“I think what we can do is continue to make it a priority,” Wilson said.

McInelly agrees that districts in Idaho wouldn’t be able to hire all the nurses, psychologists and social workers they needed all at once – “but we have to start working on this,” he said. he declared. “Until we have the money to hire these people, we don’t know how understaffed we will be. “

Tracie Bent, head of planning and policy for the state board, raised another complicating factor in Idaho’s method of funding for student services staff.

Currently, Idaho’s “staff allowance” for student services staff (the category of school staff that includes counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers) does not allocate enough money to support students. achieve these ratios.

Districts are funded for approximately 0.75 full-time student service staff per “unit” of students. (A unit is essentially a batch of students counted together for funding purposes).

To meet the recommended staffing ratios in these four categories, Idaho would need to hire an additional 2,272.58 full-time equivalents, Bent said.

That would take the increase in the staff allowance per unit to 4.65 – which would require the legislature to change the Idaho code.

“If you’re trying to hit the ratio for one, you probably should be doing it for everyone,” said Molly Strauss, president of the Idaho School Psychologist Association.

Strauss believes Idaho schools would have an easier time finding school psychologists if the student counseling workload was attractive to potential applicants. One of his association’s members is the only psychologist for every 3,000 students, Strauss said, and is overburdened with just assessing students. With those kinds of ratios, Strauss said school psychologists can’t do proactive work, like academic interventions, group counseling, and working with teachers and families that help alleviate student problems before they do. they don’t degenerate.

“We’re missing the whole preventative part of our job, because we’re just trying to stay afloat,” Strauss said.

About Sami Edge

Journalist Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a member of the Education Writers Association 2019 and reports results for Latino students in Idaho. She is also a member of the American Press Institute in 2019. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Read more stories from Sami Edge »

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