Three people sit around a conference room table.

Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Superintendent’s Advisory Council met on May 17 to discuss legislative guidance and school counselors’ use of time. Photo by Audrie Lamb, May 17, 2023

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Superintendents Advisory Council heard an initial analysis of responses from a survey of school counselors focused on their use of time during their May 17 meeting.

Heather Bushelman, program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling in KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning, said feedback from the survey is still being evaluated, but shared a first look at the data. The survey had 100% participation, up from around 30% district participation last year.

The survey focuses on school counselors’ appropriate and inappropriate use of time, guided by the American School Counseling Association (ASCA). Appropriate activities include anything that directly uses students or working with students, such as career counseling. Inappropriate activities can include data entry for all students, clerical tasks and indirect student services. Several regulations in Kentucky regarding school counseling is based on ASCA research and guidance.

Kentucky regulation states school counselors should work with students 60% of their time, and there should be a 1 to 250 counselor-to-student ratio. Kentucky currently has a 1 to 350 counselor-to-student ratio. This ratio may increase soon as funding from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief runs out, said Bushelman.

“None of this is ever punitive, it’s to help kids,” she said. “We want to offer any support or help we can, whether it’s a training, school visits, resources.”

Bushelman said she also has spoken to middle school and high school student groups, such as the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, to cross reference the data schools and districts were inputting with student testimonies. She said some students reported long waits to see counselors.

“Our students recognize the amount of responsibilities placed on our … counselors,” she said, adding they would really like more access to them for mental health needs such daily stresses, coping skills and friend conflicts.

The survey results will help inform KDE staff as they develop training for school counselors and administrators to address themes in the survey responses and help schools align more closely to the ASCA model.

Legislative Update

KDE’s General Counsel Todd Allen and Director of Government Relations Brian Perry also joined the SAC to discuss 2023 legislation.

The department already has issued guidance for 2023 legislation with an emergency clause – meaning legislation that takes effect immediately when it is signed by the governor or when a veto is overturned by the General Assembly. Perry said guidance on other pieces of legislation that did not include an emergency clause will likely be released in June.

The upcoming guidance will include information House Bill 538, which deals with student discipline, and includes several other education topics.

“Some of the legislation leaves a lot of unanswered questions and leaves school districts in a position that they have to calculate all of the risks and understand some of these matters may lead to court and the court will decide the interpretation,” said Allen. “Our guidance is going to try to help school districts to have less risk involved, but doesn’t mean there is no risk involved.”