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Pupil Support Services (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Pupil support services address students’ social, emotional, behavioral, physical, and cognitive needs to help them reach their maximum academic and health potential (1, 2, 3). The availability of an array of pupil support personnel reflects a school's capacity to meet a wide range of student needs. For example, school counselors often help students learn coping, conflict resolution, and goal-setting skills that are critical to future success (1). Counselors also provide immediate support during crises and referrals to other services as needed. School psychologists provide some of these same services and also offer mental health counseling, identify learning challenges, and assist teachers in tailoring instruction accordingly (4). Speech/language/hearing and resource specialists provide direct service and case management for students with specific disabilities (5, 6). Nurses manage the daily health needs of students, which may include providing basic health care and screenings, connecting students to health care resources, and helping students manage chronic health conditions, among other responsibilities (3). Nurses and other student support staff help ensure that children are healthy and have the support they need to be successful learners (1, 3). These support services play an important role in creating a positive school climate, which is linked to improved student behavior and academic achievement (2, 3, 7).
For more information on pupil support services, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California Department of Education. (2021). School counseling programs – CalEdFacts. Retrieved from:

2.  American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). Empirical research studies supporting the value of school counseling. Retrieved from:

3.  National Association of School Nurses, & School-Based Health Alliance. (2021). School nursing and school-based health centers in the United States. Retrieved from:

4.  National Association of School Psychologists. (n.d.). Who are school psychologists. Retrieved from:

5.  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists in schools. Retrieved from:

6.  Cal. Ed. Code § 56362. Retrieved from:§ionNum=56362

7.  Voight, A., et al. (2013). A climate for academic success: How school climate distinguishes schools that are beating the achievement odds. WestEd. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Pupil support services, such as those provided by school counselors and nurses, can be critical to student success, particularly for students with physical, emotional, or behavioral problems. Yet with limited school resources and numerous demands, policymakers face difficult decisions about the priority of non-teaching staff. Pupil support service personnel meet student needs that otherwise may fall to administrators and teachers to address, or may not be addressed at all. Access to school counselors, school nurses, and school-based health services is linked to positive learning environments and improved student behavior, engagement, and academic achievement (1, 2, 3). These support services are especially critical now that California law requires school districts to address student engagement and school climate (1).

Policy and program options that could improve student access to quality support services include:
  • Maximizing partnerships and existing funding streams, such as California's Local Control Funding Formula and the Mental Health Services Act, to ensure that students have access to school counseling and other mental health services, and promoting the use of research-based techniques to target specific student outcomes (1, 2, 4)
  • Promoting the delivery of health care services at school by funding school nurses and school-based health centers; as with mental health services, public funding streams can be leveraged to expand health care at schools—e.g., using Medicaid funds for school health services (1, 5, 6)
  • Integrating student mental health and health care services into a coordinated and comprehensive system of supports; a key aspect of such a system includes engaging school staff (teachers, administrators, etc.), students, parents, and the community (7, 8)
For more information about pupil support services, see’s Research & Links section or visit the California Department of Education, California Association of School Counselors, California School-Based Health Alliance, and California School Nurses Organization. Also see Policy Implications under’s Education and Child Care and Emotional and Behavioral Health topics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California School-Based Health Alliance. (n.d.). The Local Control Funding Formula: Maximizing the new school funding formula to expand health supports. Retrieved from:

2.  American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). Empirical research studies supporting the value of school counseling. Retrieved from:

3.  National Association of School Nurses, & School-Based Health Alliance. (2021). School nursing and school-based health centers in the United States. Retrieved from:

4.  California School-Based Health Alliance, & Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California. (2014). Connecting students to mental health services: Creative collaborations, funding, and evidence-based practices. Retrieved from:

5.  California School-Based Health Alliance. (n.d.). Funding school-based health centers. Retrieved from:

6.  California School-Based Health Alliance. (n.d.). Free Care Rule. Retrieved from:

7.  Center for Mental Health in Schools and Student/Learning Supports. (n.d.). System change toolkit: Transforming student supports into a unified, comprehensive, equitable system for addressing barriers to learning and teaching. Retrieved from:

8.  California Department of Education. (2020). What is coordinated school health. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2019, public school districts in California employed one full-time equivalent counselor for every 626 students, a psychologist for every 1,041 students, a speech/language/hearing specialist for every 1,093 students, a nurse for every 2,410 students, and a social worker for every 7,308 students. As in previous years, 2019 data for counties and school districts show wide variation in student access to support personnel.

Statewide trends since 2011 show overall improvement in the ratio of students to every type of pupil support personnel for which data are available. Still, 2019 figures fall short of recommendations from the American School Counselor Association (250 students per counselor), the National Association of School Psychologists (500-700 students per psychologist), and the National Association of Social Workers (250 students per social worker).

When asked whether their school provides adequate counseling and support services for students, 30% of responses by elementary school staff, 37% of responses by middle school staff, 35% of responses by high school staff, and 49% of responses by staff at non-traditional schools reported strong agreement in 2017-2019.