Louisiana's ratio of counselors to students worsened more than any state over a 10-year period, according to a national review.
The state went from 218 students per counselor in 2004-05 to 468 students per counselor in 2014-15, a 114 percent increase.
The figures were complied by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in suburban Washington, D. C.
It said the ranks of counselors dropped by 54 percent even though public school enrollment fell by 9 percent during the same time.
The non-profit group, which was founded in 1937, represents counselors from kindergarten through 12th grade and college admission officials.
The recommended ratio is 250 students per counselor over all grades.
Only two states in the nation – Vermont and Wyoming – meet that standard.
State officials disputed the findings and said that, when it comes to high school students, the state exceeds the recommended ratio.
Louisiana has a rule that high schools are supposed to have one counselor for every 450 students in grades 9-12.
High school counselors assist students with classes they take, help ensure they are on schedule to graduate and assist in college and career planning.
Louisiana's ratio for all students is similar to those in nearby states, according to the group.
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That includes Texas, 449 students per counselor; Mississippi, 438 students per counselor and Alabama, 453 students per counselor.
The gap between the number of counselors and students is even bigger in populous states.
David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy, said officials of his group cannot say exactly why Louisiana's ratio shot up.
"The conventional wisdom is counselors are always among the first to be eliminated when budgets are tight," Hawkins said.
Basic state aid for public schools has been frozen for nine of the past 10 years amid budget problems.
Hawkins said the trend in Louisiana has an impact.
"School counselors are the only set of people in the school that can help your kid stay in school or get to college," he said.
He added, "In my view, when you look at a profession that shows that kind of increase, you really have to ask the question of whether my kids are going to get the help they need to get to college," Hawkins said.
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Sydni Dunn, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said federal officials classify counselors 13 ways and the state does so in 20 ways.
Even using the federal data cited by the group, the ratio was one counselor for every 284 high school students for 2016-17, she said.
Using the state methodology, Dunn wrote, the student-to-counselor ratio is 1:305 for all grades and one counselor for every 234 high school students.
Tara Washington, a counselor at Woodlawn High School in Baton Rouge, said counselors are the heartbeat of the school.
"If you are in doubt you go to the school counselor," Washington said.
But she said principals generally favor hiring new teachers rather than counselors when it comes to improving ratios.
Woodlawn has 913 students and two counselors.
Several district superintendents downplayed the findings.
Doris Voitier, veteran superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, said social workers and others are serving in capacities similar to counselors.
One group, Career Compass, said during the last school year it assisted students in 38 of Louisiana's 69 school districts on career options, financial aid and other areas.
Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary school system, said his high school has one counselor per grade.
A committee of Louisiana’s top school board approved a plan Tuesday that critics said would diminish the role of counselors in public high schools.
"Which most people don't have," Devillier added.
Wesley Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school, said one of his first priorities was to add a counselor in each of the districts two high schools.
Royce Hooks, president of the Louisiana School Counselors Association, said while he is not familiar with the report, student/counselor ratios worsened after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 but have improved since then.
The state has about 2,300 school counselors.