State grants brings more support staff to 77 schools

Seventy-seven Minnesota schools are adding new counselors, social workers, psychologists and other support staff thanks to $12 million in state grants announced Friday.

About half the schools are outside the metro area. The positions total 77 full- and part-time staff.

Six schools in the Minneapolis district won grants to add school counselors or chemical dependency counselors. In St. Paul, three schools were awarded funding for counselors, and Washington Technology magnet school won a grant for a social worker.

Gov. Mark Dayton's office said in a statement that more than 100 schools applied for the grants. The statement says priority was given to schools that lack support staff.

An MPR News analysis found that Minnesota spends less than half the national average on student support, and the state's student-to-counselor ratio ranks close to the bottom nationally.

"Expanding access to this critical guidance will leave our students better prepared for college and careers," Dayton said in a statement. "I thank the Legislature for their support of this initiative during the 2016 Session. I hope we can expand upon it next year."

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, was one of the chief backers of last session's legislation authorizing the grants. "These new positions will provide crucial support to our students, helping to improve attendance, address physical and mental health, guide students in preparing for career and college, and reach graduation," she said in a statement.