PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona has the highest ratio in the nation of students per school counselor, according to recent figures, and some are concerned about the impact of the counselor shortage.
In the state's public schools, there was an average of 903 students to every one counselor in the 2015-16 school year, according to data from the American School Counselor Association. The national average is 464-to-1.
The state had a 743-to-1 ratio a decade ago but climbed as high as 941-to-1 in the post-recession years before slowly improving, the data showed.
The improved ratio is still more than three times the recommended number and has been criticized by supporters of a national gun control movement led by young people, The Arizona Republic reported last week.
"We're dangerously underfunding mental health," said Jordan Harb, 17, a leader of the Arizona March for Our Lives movement.
The high caseloads hurt a counselor's ability to "prevent suicide and possible homicide within their campuses," the student group's website says.
The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, which can be difficult to reach in cash-strapped schools. Only New Hampshire, Wyoming and Vermont had ratios within that range, data showed.
Arizona is not among about 60 percent of states that require counselors in high schools, the association said. Nearly half the states also mandate them in elementary and middle schools.
Schools with shrinking budgets are forced to make tough choices.
"Do I hire a new math teacher or a school counselor?" said Katherine Pastor, a counselor at Flagstaff High School.
The Phoenix Union High School District has one of the best ratios in Arizona at 320 students per counselor, according to Amanda Nolasco, a district counselor and assistant chairwoman of the Arizona School Counselor Association.
High schools in Mesa have six to nine counselors with caseloads between 360 to 460 students each, Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Heidi Hurst said. The overall district ratio is about 805-to-1.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Secret Service released recommendations to schools last month on avoiding potential school violence. One suggestion is to create teams of teachers, counselors, coaches and others to identify potentially troublesome behavior.
Nolasco said she and other counselors met with members of Gov. Doug Ducey's staff to discuss the idea earlier this year. She said she and others are concerned about finding the time in understaffed schools.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com