SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers want to see more high school counselors who are better able to prepare students for college and a career.

HB198 would provide grants for school districts to enroll their counselors in a state-run certificate program that connects K-12 schools with higher education institutions and industry partners.

"Many practicing school counselors are lacking these more targeted college and career counseling skills," bill sponsor Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said to members of the House Education Committee on Thursday. "As a parent and as someone who's been a volunteer in the schools, I have seen this. I have seen so many students not get quite on track."

The bill would appropriate $440,000 in one-time funds to administer the program through the Utah State Office of Education. Originally, the bill called for $2 million.

Some legislators expressed concern that the money would be taken out of the weighted pupil unit, subtracting funds that would otherwise be given to all schools. Arent said providing funds to each school individually wouldn't achieve the same result in being able to collaborate statewide with higher education and employers.

"Unfortunately, local school districts won't be able to do this on their own," she said. "This is a certificate that needs to be created at the State Office (of Education) in conjunction with business and higher education. There isn't a way to give this money to the locals and say, 'Do it.'"

The grant would enable 600 school counselors, just under 60 percent of all counselors statewide, to participate in the training on a voluntary basis.

Richard Nelson, president of the Utah Technology Council, said the certificate program would give counselors "real world experience" with majors and careers in high demand.

"(Employers) care deeply about this issue," Nelson said. "They want to help the counselors know what are the hot jobs, what are the hot opportunities."

Arent said it's difficult to measure success in such a program when the results are years away when students graduate from college and get a job. But other metrics that could be used to analyze the program's effectiveness include graduation and dropout rates, Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion, and attendance.

The bill was approved unanimously by the committee and now awaits approval from the House.

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