Budget proposals to add school counselors, improve safety
Governor’s proposed budget to feature increased funding to ensure key student supports for safe learning environments
RICHMOND — Governor Ralph Northam announced last month his proposed budget will feature an additional $39 million in new money for investments to ensure safe learning environments for Virginia’s K-12 students. In addition to a raise in teacher salaries, Governor Northam also is proposing to allocate $36 million to fund additional school counselors for school divisions across the Commonwealth.
“Virginia is a nationallyrecognized leader on school safety, but creating a safe learning environment means ensuring all of our students receive proper supports, including access to mental health professionals,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia’s school counselors play a critical role in creating a positive school climate and engaging with our students— they are an important source of support in the education system and we need more of them. We can create safer learning environments for Virginia’s students by taking a more holistic approach, and adding school counselors is integral to our success.”
Earlier in 2018 Governor Northam signed Executive Order Eleven, re-establishing the Children’s Cabinet and creating a Student Safety Work Group chaired by Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. The diverse group of stakeholders convened to develop recommendations to enhance the safety of students and schools, centering focus on the individual safety and well-being of Virginia’s students. A number of the work group’s recommendations are reflected in the budget proposals announced in December.
Virginia schools reported 9,238 threat assessments in 2017—50 percent of which were threats of harm to self. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among schoolaged youth nationally, and in Virginia. Taking steps to provide additional supports to students, raise awareness about suicide, and ensure students, school professionals, public safety personnel and community members are equipped with appropriate training and intervention skills are critical to a holistic school safety strategy. The $36 million proposal would be the first installment of a three-year, phased strategy to hire enough school counselors to reduce caseloads to 1:250 across all grade bands, the nationally-recognized best practice. The state currently funds a ratio of 1:425 school counselors.
In addition, the governor’s budget will provide $3.3 million to the Virginia Center for School Campus Safety, enabling it to fund critical positions; expand access to training for school professionals, school resource and security officers; supplement expired grant support for the annual school climate survey; and provide additional active shooter trainings. It also will add funding for a threat assessment case management tool, enabling consistent tracking and reporting of threat assessment data that will allow school and state leaders to better understand issues facing schools and direct resources accordingly.
“Investing in school counselors clearly demonstrates our commitment to best serving our students and all their needs,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “When it comes to the safety and well-being of our children, we can never be too vigilant. Providing funding for critical personnel, mental health supports, and highly relevant trauma-informed trainings is essential.”
“Virginia has long established itself a national leader on school safety, in large part because of the tremendous work of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Governor Northam’s significant investment will bolster their work and enable the Center to hire additional staff, create and offer cutting edge training to our school and law enforcement communities, and provide technical support to local school divisions.