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Arizona’s school counselor to student ratio is the worst in the United States, at 903 kids per counselor. That is nearly four times more than the 250 students-per-counselor rate that the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) recommends.

While only three states across the country meet that guideline, Arizona’s rate is by far the highest; Michigan comes closest to Arizona with a 744-1 ratio. The national average is 464-to-1.

The extreme ratio in Arizona is the result of budget and job cuts during the 2008 recession, which sent Arizona’s counselor-to-student ratio skyrocketing from 743-1 in 2008 to a peak of 941-1 in the post-recession years.

Another factor is that while most states require counselors in high schools and nearly half mandate counselors in elementary and middle schools, Arizona does not.

Counselors play a significant role in students’ academic and personal development; they help students with everything from class schedules and summer school courses to college applications and visits. They also occasionally have to handle much more severe situations, such as mediating disagreements, providing impromptu mental health counseling, or in some cases, dealing with the fallout of student suicides. 

This means that the shortage of counselors directly impacts students, and this shortage has become something of a rallying cry for activists in the Arizona March for Our Lives and #RedForEd teacher movements. 

“We’re dangerously under-funding mental health,” 17-year-old Jordan Harb, one of the leaders of the Arizona March for Our Lives movement, told the Arizona Republic in 2018. 

The ratios vary by region, making the problem more difficult to solve. 

In Northern Arizona, 70% of districts have no counselors at all, according to recent federal data and KNAU reports that only four of Northern Arizona’s 121 districts meet the recommended rate put forth by the ASCA. 

The Phoenix Union High School District, meanwhile, has one of the better ratios in the state, at 320-to-1, according to the Arizona Republic.

The issue has become a hot-button one in Arizona and lawmakers finally took notice this year, voting to include an additional $20 million school-safety grant in the state budget to hire more school counselors or on-campus law enforcement officers. KNAU reports that this will allow the state to add 224 counselors statewide.

While this will put a dent in the shortage, the issue is likely to linger as part of Arizona’s larger education problem. 

Pay for Arizona high school teachers is 49th in the nation, while pay for elementary school teachers ranks 50th in the country, according to a 2017 analysis by the ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy. It said pay for high-school teachers ranks 49th in the U.S., slightly above elementary-school teachers, who rank 50th.

This year’s budget also included a 5% raise for teachers and Gov. Doug Ducey promised to provide an additional 5% increase by 2020 in the wake of the 2018 Arizona teachers’ strike, but teachers and advocates continue to call for greater investment in education.

The Arizona Education Association has said lawmakers need to invest more than $1 billion into public schools, to restore funding to pre-recession levels. 

So far, the Republican-led state legislature has not done that. It remains to be seen if they will in 2020.