The National Association of School Psychologist recommends school districts employ one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.
In North Carolina, the ratio is one psychologist for every 2,008 students.
Let that sink in, and consider the mine-field of socio-economic and mental health issues children must navigate these days.
A higher percentage of teens report thinking about suicide. Incidents of bullying is on the rise. More children are living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. And they’re also struggling with sex and gender issues in ways that seem very foreign to many parents.
Meanwhile, academic studies show that students who are healthy, both mentally and physically, perform better in school.
“If you’ve ever seen a student with a tooth ache in school, then you know that they don’t make it through the day,” Ellen Essick, a section chief for specialized instruction support at NC Healthy Schools. “They’re not at all thinking about the test they’re taking or the class they’re in. All they’re thinking about is how that tooth hurts.”
NC Healthy Schools is a division of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that’s focused on improving student and staff health by providing resources within the context of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.
Here’s a link to reports state staffers shared with the commission: https://tinyurl.com/y7tsy4ee**
Essick made her remarks this week during a meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education. The commission was formed in late 2017 to make recommendations for an ongoing court review of the state’s compliance with the 21-year-old Leandro ruling.
In that seminal case, a judge found North Carolina had failed to provide a “sound, basic” education for all students, regardless of the relative wealth in their local school districts.
Brad Wilson, the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield, who chairs the commission, said the commission is about half way through its work of gathering information to include in its report to the governor.
“We’re now beginning a level of detail of examination and analysis that will ultimately lead to our final report this year,” Wilson said.
The Leandro case sprang from a 1994 lawsuit filed by parents, children and K-12 administrators in five low-income counties, who argued that their districts weren’t receiving their fair share of public dollars.
In addition to the report about North Carolina badly missing the mark on school psychologists, the commission also learned that the state comes in staffing school counselors, school nurses and social workers.
The recommended ratio for school counselors is one for every 250 students. North Carolina has 4,137 school counselors for a ratio of one counselor for every 367 students.
For nurses, the recommendation is one per school. North Carolina has one nurse for every 1.7 schools.
And the recommendation for school social workers is one for every 250 students. North Carolina’s ratio is 1 for every 2,000 students.
Rick Glazier, executive director of the NC Justice Center, wondered how the state could possibly be abiding by the Leandro ruling when it’s so badly missing the mark for recommended levels of school support services.
“One would suggest that we’re devoting insufficient resources to school training, to school personnel, to psychologists, to social workers, guidance counselors and to school communities to be working with their children,” Glazier said.
Last year, NCDPI staffers reported that it would take roughly $688 million more in state funding to hire enough social workers, nurses, counselors, psychologist and school resource officers for North Carolina’s public schools to reach nationally recommended ratios.
Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators and commissioner member, noted that recent tax cuts approved by the Republican-led General Assembly leaves $3 billion on the table each year that could be used to improve public schools, health care and infrastructure across the state.
“Caring for the whole child is what public education is about,” Jewell said. “Our priority should not be tax cuts for corporations. It’s not the North Carolina way.”