Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Update on Counselors--- SB 154 and HB 801

Advocacy Update
Counselors--- SB 154 and HB 801
Last year, FSCA embarked on a three year plan to move Florida's Guidance Counselors into the 21st century. Here is our score card so far:

Year One's plan was to create awareness of school counseling among legislators in Florida. Instead, our issues and goals resonated with a champion in each chamber and legislation was filed in both Senate and House to change our name, align assignments to training and student needs for access, and increase access by ensuring counselors in all schools with ratios closer to the national standard. The legislation was heard in at least one committee and had a highly positive reception.

While we had hoped to file legislation in Year 2 with plans for hearings in later years, we capitalized on our momentum, improved our legislative goals, and filed our legislation again. This time, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, once again filed the Senate Bill in January and newly elected Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, filed the companion bill in February. By the end of April our efforts were rewarded by having our bills heard in committee and passed in a revised form. This is a major accomplishment when you consider that usually only about 10 percent of filed bills are passed each year. And that number may even be less this year. This bill represents a victory on the way to achieving our full legislative agenda for Florida's students. In this first phase we achieved our name change from Guidance Counselor to School Counselor.
During the session, each of the bills were referenced to three legislative committees in their respective chambers. In these meetings, there were discussions about the fiscal impact of the proposed ratios (and they were thus removed) and discussions about whether assignments should remain in local control. After much discussion and strategizing, it was determined to defer job assignments and ratios to year three. This was validated by two things, first, the bills were heard in a combined six committees with much discussion on the value of certified school counselors, and the fact the bill needs to now move forward with looking at ratios. Legislators were actually raising the issue a need for ratios! The second is the emergence of a partnership with the PTA. They actually had a representative in the committee room, who on at least three occasions, filed a committee form to wave in support of our bill. They are interested in continuing to help us move this initiative forward next year.

Year three (next year), capitalizing on this momentum, we need the membership of FSCA to set up meetings with their local legislators. As we prepare for our biggest effort next year, please go and talk to them, and explain what you do and what they can do to help you do a better job to support your school, the student and their families. Legislators will be back in their district offices over the summer and will have more time to spend talking to you.
As you plan for next year, plan to go to Tallahassee with FSCA to meet with legislators. We believe that the ones who did found it to be enlightening and it sent a powerful message.

Finally, during our “Day on the Hill", FSCA representatives and their advocate, Carole Green arranged an appointment in the Governor’s Office with two members of his staff. Along with discussing our legislation, they also discussed the Governor’s proposal for the across the board $2,500 pay increase for just classroom teachers. We believe these discussions and our awareness campaign contributed to ensuring that school counselors will now receive the same pay increase as other instructional employees.

Thanks to Carole Green and our legislative champions this year, Sen. Detert, Dane Eagle and other who cosponsored and helped our efforts behind the scenes, get ready for action this summer and next year. Get active!