Biden administration to increase ratio of school psychologists

One in five children suffer from mental disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Biden administration plans to alleviate burdens on students and educators by increasing funding for school psychologists. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

The Biden administration plans to double the number of school psychologists, therapists, social workers and other health professionals in K-12 schools across the nation in order to help American students, according to Biden’s campaign website.

While no action has been taken on this plan, education professionals remain hopeful for an increase in school psychologists in their schools.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children live with mental disorders, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, OCD, substance abuse disorders, Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD. That percentage is far higher than what the nation’s current school psychologist count can effectively handle, according to the Biden-Harris administration. 

“The current school psychologist to student ratio in this country is roughly 1,400 to 1, while experts say it should be at most 700 to 1,” the campaign website says. “That’s a gap of about 35,000 to 60,000 school psychologists.” 

Sam Bates, a school psychologist for the Alpine School District, agrees with these statements.

“As far as school psychologists go, we don’t even come close to that ideal number and it’s because there’s not enough of us out there,” Bates said. 

Bates works on a team of five school psychologists for the Alpine School District, with specific assignments to Mountain View High School, Orem High School and Sharon Elementary. He said in a perfect world, psychologists would each only be assigned to one school.

“There’s been a big emphasis in the Alpine School District for social and emotional wellness. We have hired a lot more psychologists than when I started, which is good, but we need to hire a lot more,” Bates said.

Many school psychologists begin their careers with an education degree before moving on to graduate programs in school psychology. U.S. News Best Graduate School Rankings ranked BYU’s education graduate program as 84th out of the Top 100 graduate programs in the nation.

BYU student Tessa Hatch from Gilbert, Arizona looks forward to furthering her career in school psychology after she graduates in April. Hatch, who is currently completing her student teaching requirement, said psychology is a field that has the ability to change and save lives.

“Mental health, behavioral and intellectual concerns are all attended to by school psychologists, and these are important issues that make a significant impact on students beginning at an early age,” Hatch said. “All students and all children deserve access to the assistance and understanding that a school psychologist can provide.”

“School psychologists are problem solvers.” said Ellie Young, a BYU Counseling Psychology and Special Education professor.

Young said school psychologists face a variety of challenges in schools, home and the community. 

“When children experience difficulties with peers, have academic challenges, or are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, we can work directly with students, teachers, or families to help the youth learn and practice new skills,” Young said.

Bates echoed these claims, saying his purpose “is to make sure the kids are succeeding in school, and that doesn’t necessarily mean with grades and everything. That also means that (the students) are socially capable, and other things that just will lead to student success.”

Hatch said she hopes the Biden administration will be able to advocate for the needs of students to help them succeed no matter what. 

“I think that the idea of seeking to double the amount of school psychologists in the U.S. is absolutely wonderful,” Hatch said. “Increasing the number of school psychologists across the country will undoubtedly benefit our school communities and our students throughout the nation.”

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