Oklahoma is facing a critical shortage of school counselors and hasn’t increased state funding to help fix the problem. The state’s student-to-counselor ratio was 398:1 at the end of 2022, while the American School Counselor Association recommends 250:1. Counselors are juggling multiple roles beyond their job description to meet student needs. School counselors told The Frontier they need more funding, higher pay and appreciation for their unique roles.
Here are five takeaways from The Frontier’s in-depth reporting:
- There are no plans to replace $35.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding that helped hire 201 school counselors and other support staff for 181 school districts in 2021. The funds helped cover half of counselors’ pay and benefits for three years. Funding expires at the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
- The Oklahoma Legislature rejected former State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s requests for around $58 million to hire more school counselors each of her last three years in office between 2018 and 2021.
- State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who took office in 2023, didn’t ask for any additional funding to hire more counselors in his budget request this year.
- Oklahoma is giving educators raises between $3,000 and $6,000 this year, increasing starting pay for school counselors to $40,991. But counselors, who must have a master’s degree, still only receive about $1,000 a year more than teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
- Unlike neighboring Arkansas and Texas, Oklahoma doesn’t have mandatory school counselor-to-student ratios or require counselors to spend a minimum amount of time on direct and indirect services. Oklahoma counselors said they often take on duties like coordinating testing and meetings for special education plans, which the American School Counselor Association deems inappropriate for school counselors.