California ranks last in the country in providing its students with guidance counselors, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the Associated Press, the shortage of guidance counselors in the state disproportionately affects lower-income and “transient” students, or students who often move between schools. California does not have enough counselors to keep track of these students and ensure they are on the path to graduation.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1, the AP notes. In the 2010-11 school year, the last year for which data is available, the ratio in California was 1,016:1.
One of the consequences of too few counselors is transcripts becoming lost when students switch schools.
“You have people just assigning classes without truly evaluating the needs of the students, and that’s just negligent,” Debra Sacks, of the Riverside charter school Come Back Kids, told the AP. “If you ask a teacher or a counselor why that happens, they’ll often say, ‘We didn’t have a transcript.'”
Loretta Whitson, executive director of the ASCA, told the AP that a confluence of factors, a “perfect storm,” led to the shortage of counselors in California.
First, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 forced districts to curb new property taxes, the proceeds of which went to fund education. As a result, school districts were forced to rely on state funding for faculty recruitment.
Then, in 2008, school counselors were hit by the nationwide recession; according to the ASCA, the number of guidance counselors dropped from 7,839 in 2008 to just 6,191 by the end of the 2011 school year. School overcrowding and explosive population growth have only compounded the problem, Whitson told the AP.
Joe Salas was a victim of a dearth of guidance counselors. Despite moving from high school to high school as a result of a family situation, he was still on track to graduate, until he reached Hillcrest Continuation School in Inglewood. The school reportedly placed him in remedial English classes, which he had already taken in high school.
Salas ended up graduating with 268.5 credits, despite needing only 200 to do so, according to the AP.
The report notes that schools are not required by law to hire guidance counselors. California schools catering to low-income students and students learning English will reportedly receive extra money this year under a new state funding law, however they are under no obligation to hire guidance counselors with the money.