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Educators testify before Senate committee for more student support professionals in schools

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SAINT PAUL, Minnesota. Jan. 24, 2023 – Educators concerned about the mental health of their students urged legislators on Tuesday to pass Senate File 56, which would pay school districts to hire staff to improve student health and safety.

This bill provides $96 million next year, and $106 million in 2025, of ongoing, sustainable funding so each school district and charter school in Minnesota can hire a school nurse, social worker, counselor, or psychologist.

Minnesota has one of the worst ratios of students-to-counselors in the United States, in some cases with one employee assigned to more than 700 students. With more mental and physical health needs than ever, there’s more urgency from lawmakers and educators to fill this staffing gap and provide holistic health teams for students in schools.

Keela Kuhlers, a 12-year school counselor for St. Paul Public Schools, and a member of Education Minnesota, testified for the committee:

“Simply put, the current state of student needs are just so great. Every day, I am placed in positions of having to prioritize work on multiple situations that all need vastly more time than is available in the day. In the continual shockwaves since the COVID pandemic, I have completed more self-harm risk assessments with students in the past two years than any other previous school year in my career. The volume of students I see for significant anxiety struggles and engaging in high-risk behaviors has grown exponentially. I game plan how to inhale my lunch in a few minutes so I can squeeze in another student or strategize ways to fit in one more phone call or one more referral before I leave after school.”

Taherah Shamsulbahri-Cobb, a school psychologist for Minneapolis Public Schools and an Education Minnesota member, testified for the committee:

“Much of my day is spent responding to students and staff who are in crisis. I’m constantly having conversations with parents about ways to support their children, and I’m left with the dread of telling them that our school-based mental health clinics are full, we’re booked, or we can maybe meet about your student the following week,” said Taherah. “… schools more than ever, have become the primary access point for mental health care, and are at times, the only option for families. It’s imperative that the related staffing ratio reflect our increasing demand for children with mental health and academic needs.”

While Minnesota faces an unprecedented teacher shortage, student needs have gone up without adequate staff to meet them, causing burnout and hopelessness.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in an education omnibus bill.

About Education Minnesota
Education Minnesota is the voice for professional educators and students. Education Minnesota’s members include teachers and education support professionals in Minnesota’s public school districts, faculty members at Minnesota’s community and technical colleges and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Crookston, retired educators and student teachers. Education Minnesota is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.

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