NPS receiving state grant funds for counseling, mental health positions

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Jul. 5—Norman Public Schools will get a boost to its district counseling and mental health resources with several hundred thousand dollars in grant funding from the state, education leaders announced last week.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is awarding over $35 million — sourced from federal relief dollars — to fund counseling and mental health grants for 181 school districts in the state.

The grant fund, called the Oklahoma School Counselor Corps, is intended to be used to hire "school counselors and school-based mental health professionals" to "meet the needs of children in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a Department of Education news release.

The grant is expected to fund 50% of the salary and benefit costs for the new staff for three years, or through the 2023-2024 school year. In grant applications, districts could list their direct needs for counselors, school-based mental health professionals, social workers and recreational therapists.

Norman Public Schools will receive $384,000 from the grant. The district did not respond to questions from The Transcript last week about how that money will be used or whether any specific district school sites will benefit from new positions.

Moore Public Schools received $825,000 in funding, Noble Public Schools received $219,000 and Little Axe Public Schools did not receive any funding.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1; Oklahoma has a ratio of 411-to-1. The state's ratio is actually better than the average ratio across all nationwide schools, which comes to 464-1.

According to the association, meeting that recommended ratio can help improve students' academic outcomes and attendance; counselors prove especially beneficial to low-income students and students of color, the association reports.

"Schools have wrestled with inadequate numbers of counselors and mental health professionals for far too long," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in a statement. "Oklahoma children suffer from a higher rate of trauma than children in most other states, and the pandemic has only exacerbated such adversity. These grants can bring transformational change to schools, some of which have not had a single school counselor.

"With academic success dependent on student well-being, this marks a critical investment for our students."

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