Apr. 04, 2024

School Counselor Proposal Creates Unfunded Mandate

There is a two-word phrase that makes many elected officials cringe, specifically those at the county and local government levels - unfunded mandate.

Often times, at the state or federal levels of government, a policy is reviewed and changed based on a particular needed improvement. Maybe the proposal is even well-intended, but it drives a directive to local governments, which must then adjust operations regardless of what the change may cost taxpayers.

During a recent House vote, I opposed such a proposal I believe will likely lead to increased school property taxes.

House Bill 1665 would mandate public schools to re-work how their school counselors operate. One of the more concerning parts of the legislation is that school counselors would not be able to spend any more than 20% of their time on tasks other than those related to student guidance.

The legislation specifically lists what are considered services to students, such as academic advising and career planning, which are certainly things that are often attributed to a school counselor’s workload.

Understanding the hardships with unfunded mandates, I have several concerns with Harrisburg directing what the workload of a school counselor should be.

Hypothetically speaking, on a day that a local school is administering state assessment tests, a teacher may experience a family emergency and stay home. In such a case, a school counselor is often called upon to fill in. However, the school counselor has already spent time scheduling students’ classes for next year. Because both tasks are defined by House Bill 1665 to be indirect work with students, the school would be at risk of violating state law.

When state law unnecessarily directs how local officials should address day-to-day operations, efficiency is jeopardized. In the hypothetical matter above, should a school district hire more full-time staff, assigning them to be available when absences occur? It is such mandates that could cause school districts to consider school property tax increases.

From my perspective, school superintendents and administrators are professionals, hired by school board members elected by you and your neighbors. Policies and procedures should be directed at the local level, where you as a parent and/or taxpayer have a stronger voice on how staff are managed.

On the subject of mental health, an effort to greatly improve House Bill 1665 was voted down along party lines. The amendment would have made certain that parents are part of the behavioral and mental health evaluation process.

Often, school counselors become engaged in mental and behavioral health issues. But we cannot look past the valuable roles of parents in the lives of children.

It is undeniable that schools play a big part in a young person’s upbringing.

While the role of a school counselor is career and academic advice, that process sometimes reveals that a student is experiencing a struggle of some kind. School counselors can be an important resource for help.

But, by no means, should that resource be considered a replacement for parental guidance, support and love. In fact, state law must respect and protect the role of Pennsylvania’s parents, as we know that parental involvement is amongst the most crucial for young people to grow into happy and successful adults.

After the amendment was defeated, unfortunately, House Bill 1665 was passed, also along party lines and has been referred to the Senate.

Here are some additional news topics and reminders I would like to share.

Help Limit Spread of Spotted Lanternfly - With the state’s spotted lanternfly quarantine now expanded to 52 counties, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is encouraging everyone to destroy lanternfly eggs in the coming weeks to help protect valuable food and ornamental crops.

Adult insects die off over the winter after laying tiny rows of eggs, covering them with a putty-colored protective coating. The egg masses, which can be on any outdoor surface, from trees and rocks to equipment and law furniture, each contain 30-50 eggs approximately the size of a pinhead and have survived winters in sub-zero temperatures. Scraping and smashing them is easy and requires no special tools.

To learn how to recognize and report spotted lanternflies, control them on your property and keep from taking them to new homes when you travel, visit agriculture.pa.gov/spottedlanternfly.

PennDOT Invites Pennsylvanians to Share Feedback on Winter Service - The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is seeking the public’s feedback on winter services through an online survey.

The survey is available now through April 17 and should take about five minutes to complete. All responses are anonymous. The 16-question survey asks respondents about their timeline expectations for safe and passable roadways, how they rank snow-removal priorities and how they rate PennDOT’s winter services. To take the survey, visit surveymonkey.com/r/2024PDWinter.

Beware of Scams for College Entrance Exams- The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is warning of scams targeting parents of students who will soon be taking PSAT, SAT and ACT exams. The scammers claim to be associated with the College Board or other educational organizations while offering preparation materials, duping the target by using their student’s name, address, school and test details, and other personal information.

The scammer starts the call by confirming the student’s address, then asking for parental permission and a deposit for the test prep materials. The scammers claim the deposit will be refunded after the test materials are used and returned. The materials are never sent and the scammer now has your credit card information.

Tips to Remember:
• Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls and emails requesting a payment.
• Never give personal or financial information over the phone or via email to an unsolicited phone call or email.
• Tell the caller that you need to check with your child or partner first and hang up.
• The College Board will never ask for bank or credit card information over the phone or email.

Consumers who have questions or feel they have been victimized by this scam may submit a complaint with the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection by visiting attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint/scams-complaint/, emailing scams@attorneygeneral.gov or calling the office at 1-800-441-2555.

Representative Jill Cooper
55th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jordan Frei
RepJillCooper.com / Facebook.com/RepJillCooper