Colorado currently has the equivalent of 791 full-time public school psychologists, a number that has inched up 4 percent in the last three academic years, according to an I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS review of data compiled by the Colorado Department of Education.
Even so, the service providers struggle with large caseloads and a growing number of students with severe behavioral and learning problems, according to state education officials.
Barb Bieber, the school psychology consultant for the state Department of Education, pointed to the rising number of students being diagnosed with autism. Since 2010, about 1,100 more students statewide were categorized with autism or autism spectrum disorders bringing the number up to more than 4,800.
Even more students have some sort of emotional disorder, about 6,680, or roughly eight percent of all those who receive special education services.
Altogether about 88,830 students received special education services as of December 2012. The number has increased each year by more than 2,100 students since 2010, according to the most recent annual special education report from the state.
“The caseloads are too large,” Bieber said of the work by school psychologists. “That’s been true for some time.”
Franci Crepeau-Hobson, former president of the Colorado Society of School Psychologists, said not all schools employ mental health staff.
“There’s actually a national shortage of school psychologists where there are positions open that schools can’t fill and that’s been the case for Colorado for some years, especially for rural and inner-city schools.”
Crepeau-Hobson, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education and Human Development, said that the problems professionals are seeing are getting worse.