“I absolutely sympathize with the comments that say the ratio of counselors to students in the state of Florida and nationally are inadequate,” said Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during the school district’s first public budget hearing on Wednesday.
“It is insufficient, it is a ratio that should not be accepted. We know the American Counseling Association recommends a ratio of 250 students for every one counselor, and we’re not at that. Nor is the state, nor is the country.”
During the first public budget hearing, high school activists and community organizers called for the board to invest more of this year’s fiscal year budget into mental health services - and to divert funding away from hiring school resource officers mandated in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.
Since former Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the act in response to the Parkland tragedy, districts statewide are now required to fund more officers to patrol public schools. Miami-Dade County has hired at least 60 new resource officers since 2018, and was planning to hire at least 200 more this year.
But many activists at the meeting also expressed their fears that the presence of more resource officers in Miami-Dade schools is contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for students of color.
“Often school districts have to make decisions – do you hire more counselors but let go of the music and art teacher? Because you can never let go of the math, science, language arts and social studies teachers because they are legally mandated,” Carvalho said.
“When I hear about getting counselors versus police officers, people need to understand – it is not in the hands of this board, it is a legal requirement in the state of Florida in the aftermath of Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” said Carvalho.
At @MDCPS first public budget hearing - a sea of green shirts from @PowerU305 are urging the board to divert $ away from police officers in schools and invest in more mental health resources & counselors #MDC #Miami #mentalhealth @WLRN reports pic.twitter.com/xEYqxXTUug
— Lily Oppenheimer (@LilyOppenheimer) July 24, 2019
According to a recent American Civil Liberties Union ‘School-To-Prison Pipeline’ report sent directly to the board last month, the number of Miami-Dade students accused of pre-arrest diversion-eligible offenses increased by 2 percent between 2017 and 2018. That means school resource officers are now presenting charges against more children for first-time misdemeanor offenses - when much of that disorderly conduct had been typically handled by school administration or counselors in the past.
The report on Miami-Dade also shows the school counselor-to-student ratio is 462 to 1. The ratio for school psychologists, dedicated specifically to students’ mental health, social development and behavior, is 1,718 children to one psychologist.
School board data indicates that Miami-Dade Public Schools currently employs 627 school counselors. Including all student success coaches, advisors, and certified mental health professionals, Carvalho said the total number of student services personnel is close to 800.
Power U, a grassroots leadership development organization for Miami-Dade children, brought dozens of guests to the meeting.
"At minimum, we don’t think there should be the concentration of police and security that there are in schools. We know there’s a state mandate. And that being said, there should at least be more mental health professionals in schools than police officers," said James Lopez, Power U Executive Director.
“We’re pretty much here because we recognize that community hearings are not necessarily the most accessible to people, people don’t necessarily understand budgets. They’re taxpayers and we believe the community should have more of a say in how resources are allocated,” said Lopez.