NYC ups spending for student support staff, but some say it still isn't enough
- Since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, his administration has spent almost $1 billion to provide schools with extra resources: establishing health clinics in more than 200 schools, providing schools access to mental health services and investing another $17 million annually in Single Shepherd, an organization that provides more than 100 extra social workers and counselors to needy school districts. The city also set aside another $14 million to provide extra social workers to homeless students, Chalkbeat reports.
- Despite the additional resources, New York City had about 4.9 support workers for every 1,000 students during the 2015-16 school year, a time when national groups recommend one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students and even more in schools with “intensive” needs. Last year, the city reported a ration of one counselor for every 348 students, but each social worker was serving an average of 700 students.
- While some schools are faring better than others, a report by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer suggests that efforts to provide greater mental health support are “patchwork” and “falling short,” and some advocates worry about what will happen if a less supportive mayor is elected in the future.
With the recent increase in school violence, homelessness, student suicide and opioid addiction, the need for student support services in the form of school counselors, social workers and mental health professionals is at an all-time high. However, at the same time as schools are feeling the effects of fewer state and local resources, there's been a greater demand for them, whether it's calls for increased teacher pay or a need to upgrade aging facilities. As a result, the city is not alone in its struggle to meet student needs with fewer student supports in place.
There is evidence of the benefits schools reap from having more existing student support. A 2011 study found that hiring an additional school counselor can be more effective than reducing class sizes and can help improve student achievement. Another study indicated that student suspension rates decreased in proportion to the number of school counselors available. And other studies show an increase in mental health professionals can improve student safety and reduce violence.
However, when faced with the need to cut down school budgets, these student support positions are often the most vulnerable. Some school districts point to access to social workers in the community as justification for cutting these positions within their schools, a move that can put more strain on county budgets in the long run. An increase in funding from local sources may help keep school social workers in place without bringing an additional cost.
Some schools are also looking at partnerships with more cost-effective programs, such as Communities in Schools, community school initiatives and other alternate sources of student support to help fill the gaps. School-based mental health services are another way schools can help meet students' needs in partnership with outside groups. As the need for student support grows, it is increasingly clear that schools cannot tackle this issue alone.