Policy Analysis | April 2019

School Counselor Legislation in the South

Cody Allen

Along with the more routine duties of academic and career development, school counselors also have a responsibility to assist students with personal and social development. The student-to-school counselor ratio across the South and the time allotment school counselors must spend providing direct services to students recently has drawn greater attention, as well as the need to clarify these direct services.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) narrows in on two best practices for states to implement regarding their school counselor programs. The first is a recommended student-to-school counselor ratio of 250-to-1. While the second is a recommendation that school counselors allocate 80 percent of their work-time to providing direct services to students and only 20 percent to non-related or administrative tasks.1

Student-to-School Counselor Ratios

In 2013 and 2017, respectively, North Carolina and Tennessee were the first states to require an 80-20 allotment for their school counselors, although neither state has yet to achieve the recommended 250‑to-1 ratio recommended by the ASCA.2

According to the ASCA and the U.S. Department of Education, based on the most recent available data, the average student-to-school counselor ratio among SLC states for the 2015-2016 school year was 411‑to-1 (slightly better than the national average of 464-to-1), with no SLC states meeting the recommended ratio. As the table illustrates, Tennessee came closest to meeting the recommended ASCA ratio.

Student-to-School Counselor Ratios and Number of School Counselors in Southern States
State Student-to-School Counselor Ratio (2015-2016) Total Number of School Counselors (2015-2016)
Alabama 491-to-1 1,516
Arkansas 378-to-1 1,303
Florida 484-to-1 5,770
Georgia 476-to-1 3,690
Kentucky 442-to-1 1,553
Louisiana 393-to-1 1,828
Mississippi 435-to-1 1,120
Missouri 349-to-1 2,637
North Carolina 375-to-1 4,124
Oklahoma 430-to-1 1,611
South Carolina 367-to-1 2,079
Tennessee 336-to-1 2,980
Texas 444-to-1 11,943
Virginia 385-to-1 3,334
West Virginia 380-to-1 731

Sources: “Student-to-School-Counselor Ratio 2015-2016,” American School Counselor Association, accessed March 1, 2019 and “State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey 2015-16,” Common Core of Data, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed March 1, 2019

North Carolina

In 2013 and 2014, North Carolina enacted Senate Bills 402 and 744 to clarify the services and duties required of school counselors.3,4 According to North Carolina General Statutes §115C-316.1, counselors must spend at least 80 percent of their work time providing appropriate “direct services” to students.5

Specifically, Section (a)(3) defines some of these “direct services” that focus on the behavioral and mental health of students. Such services include:

  • Providing responsive services through consultation with students, families and staff;
  • Individual and small group counseling;
  • Crisis counseling;
  • Referrals; and
  • Peer facilitation.6

The State Board of Education further defines these as preventative and responsive services and requires that counselors identify students whose needs or concerns require such services.7


Two sections of the Tennessee Code address school counselor duties and responsibilities with specificity. According to Tennessee Code §49-5-302(b), the duties of school counselors include, but are not limited to, counseling on social or peer-group pressure problems; providing guidance on socialization and group interaction; offering behavioral guidance; and counseling on personal problems.8 While Tennessee Code §49-6-303 states that school counseling programs must operate under guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education, it also further defines the services school counselors shall provide to students and includes:

  • Serving in a consultative role to parents as a resource in understanding growth and development problems and as an aid in understanding how some non-school factors affect learning;
  • Serving as a resource in decreasing disciplinary issues, understanding peer relations, teacher‑pupil relations, social awareness and drug awareness;
  • Serving as a resource in decreasing juvenile delinquency incidents through guidance and counseling;
  • Serving as an available source for students needing someone to listen to their problems or concerns; and
  • Serving as a resource in implementing a conflict resolution intervention program.

Additionally, it specifies counselors may refer or assist parents and guardians in accessing outside mental health assessments or services.9

In 2017, subject to statute, the state Department of Education codified the standards for school counselors – through their Comprehensive School Counseling Model Implementation Guide – to comply with the ASCA recommend practice with an emphasis on the 80-20 time allocation. The standards outline the recommended direct services as: providing counseling to students who are tardy, absent or have disciplinary problems; helping the school administration identify and resolve student issues, needs, problems and areas of concern; providing responsive and crisis counseling; referring students and families to available school and community resources; and providing both individual and peer group counseling.10

The Tennessee Department of Education also emphasizes school counselors address student social and personal development with an emphasis on character education; bullying and harassment response; internet safety; suicide prevention; and school climate monitoring and improvement.11

Recent Legislation

Many SLC member states have proposed – or enacted – legislation addressing school counseling services and ratios during the 2019 sessions.

Arkansas Senate Bill 199 (Enacted)

This legislation, titled the School Counseling Improvement Act of 2019, rewrites most of Arkansas’s statutory language regarding school counselors, with the following notable effects:

  • Defines “direct services” to include responsive services regarding students personal or behavioral issues; administration of risk-assessment; and interventions for students exhibiting dangerous behaviors;
  • Defines “indirect services” to be consultations with students, parents, guardians, staff and community agencies regarding student’s non-academic needs;
  • Requires school counselors spend at least 90 percent of their work time providing the aforementioned direct and indirect services to students; and
  • Limits school counselor’s time allotment to administrative tasks to no more than 10 percent of their work time.

Florida House Bill 1277 (Pending)

This bill would require all school districts provide funding to hire counselors at the recommended student-counselor ratio of 250-to-1.

Kentucky Senate Bill 1 (Enacted)

This comprehensive school safety bill addresses school counselors and requires each school district employ at least one school counselor and aim to have a 250-to-1 student-counselor ratio in each school by the 2021 school year. It also requires counselors spend at least 60 percent of their work time providing direct services to students.

Oklahoma Senate Bill 35 (Pending)

This legislation would create a new section of law requiring school counselors spend at least 80 percent of their work time providing direct services to students. It also defines “direct services” as: providing responsive services through consultation with students, parents, guardians and staff, individual and small group counseling, crisis counseling, referrals, and peer facilitation.

Texas Senate Bill 426 (Pending)

This bill would require school counselors spend at least 80 percent of their work time performing the counseling duties laid out in Texas Statute 33.005. The statute requires school counselors plan, implement and evaluate a guidance and counseling program to include:

  • A guidance curriculum to help students develop their full educational potential, including the students’ interests and career objectives;
  • A responsive services component to intervene on behalf of any student whose immediate personal concerns or problems put the student’s continued educational, career, personal, or social development at risk;
  • An individual planning system to guide a student as the student plans, monitors, and manages the student’s own educational, career, personal, and social development; and
  • A system to support the efforts of teachers, staff, parents, and other members of the community in promoting the educational, career, personal, and social development of students.

Virginia House Bill 1729 (Enacted)

This legislation requires school counselors in public elementary or secondary schools spend at least 80 percent of their work time, during normal school hours, providing direct services to individual or groups of students, as recommended by the ASCA.

West Virginia Senate Bill 451 (Failed)

This comprehensive education bill would have codified school counselors’ main responsibility as that of providing direct counseling services to students in support of their academic, social and emotional needs. However, this legislation would have completely removed existing language in the statute that quantifies the allotment counselors must spend on direct services, currently at 75 percent of work time.


1 “ASCA National Model, A Framework for School Counseling Programs,” American School Counselors Association, accessed March 1, 2019.

2 Anita Wadhwani. “Extra duties limited school counselors’ face time with students. A new rule is changing that.” The Nashville Tennessean, August 27, 2018, accessed March 1, 2019.

3 North Carolina Senate Bill 402 (2013), accessed March 1, 2019.

4 North Carolina Senate Bill 744 (2013), accessed March 1, 2019.

5 North Carolina General Statutes §115C-316.1, accessed March 1, 2019.

6 Ibid.

7 “School Counselor Job Description,” Department of Public Instruction, State Board of Education, accessed March 1, 2019.

8 Tennessee Code §49-5-302, accessed March 1, 2019.

9 Tennessee Code §49-6-303, accessed March 1, 2019.

10 “Tennessee Comprehensive School Counseling Model Implementation Guide 2017,” Tennessee Department of Education, accessed March 1, 2019.

11 “School Counseling,” Tennessee Department of Education, accessed March 1, 2019.