Texas Clinicians Defeat Effort to Lower Standards for School SLPs Speech-language pathologists in Texas are celebrating a first-round victory in upholding the state’s professional qualification standards. The Texas Speech Language Hearing Association (TSHA) successfully thwarted passage of an amendment that would lower standards from a master’s degree to a bachelor’s degree for school-based SLPs. But as the Texas Legislature wrangles ... ASHA News
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ASHA News  |   July 01, 2005
Texas Clinicians Defeat Effort to Lower Standards for School SLPs
Author Notes
  • Janet Deppe, ASHA’s director of state education policy, can be reached at jdeppe@asha.org
    Janet Deppe, ASHA’s director of state education policy, can be reached at jdeppe@asha.org×
  • Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.
    Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   July 01, 2005
Texas Clinicians Defeat Effort to Lower Standards for School SLPs
The ASHA Leader, July 2005, Vol. 10, 1-26. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.10092005.1
The ASHA Leader, July 2005, Vol. 10, 1-26. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.10092005.1
Speech-language pathologists in Texas are celebrating a first-round victory in upholding the state’s professional qualification standards. The Texas Speech Language Hearing Association (TSHA) successfully thwarted passage of an amendment that would lower standards from a master’s degree to a bachelor’s degree for school-based SLPs. But as the Texas Legislature wrangles over a school financing bill during an emergency session, the battle isn’t over yet.
During the final month of the 2005 legislative session, the Texas Senate proposed an amendment to a larger school finance bill allowing bachelor’s degree graduates in communication disorders to provide speech-language pathology services in schools for students 3 to 12 years of age. Organizations representing school administrators supported the amendment that in effect waived the current licensing requirements for a master’s degree.
“We certainly don’t want to set the precedent in Texas that could be used across the country to lower standards,” said Larry Higdon, ASHA past president, who also serves as TSHA director of legislation. “The new IDEA ’04 law at the federal level certainly had an influence on this legislation being filed in Texas.”
IDEA ’04 gives states the flexibility to determine standards for related services personnel. Under IDEA ’04, school districts are no longer required to hire the highest qualified professionals. School administrators welcomed the new law, hoping that it would help eliminate vacancies of SLPs across the state.
Grassroots Action
The legislative effort began in mid-March when the Texas House forwarded a large, general bill on public education and public school finance to the Texas Senate. At the time of its referral to the Senate Education Committee, the bill did not propose a reduction of standards for SLPs. On May 2 when the committee reported back with a larger, amended bill, the 65th amendment proposed to reduce speech-language pathology standards in the schools.
After release of the committee report, TSHA activated its grassroots networks, including students and consumers, flooding Texas senators with calls and letters in opposition. Melissa Sweeney, TSHA vice president for governmental and social policies, has been able to effect change in a number of bills affecting speech-language pathology and audiology through a grassroots program that has improved with each legislative session. As TSHA director of legislation, Higdon garnered support from other influential senators and together with the TSHA executive board, drafted alternative language.
“Through the TSHA Web site, e-mail blasts, and e-mail legislative network, we were able to influence key legislators to look closely at the negative effect that lowering standards would have on services for the children of Texas,” Higdon said.
The Texas Speech and Hearing Foundation held a mid-session legislative seminar in Austin that culminated with a visit to Capitol Hill where the 75 participants put their advocacy skills to work. Later that spring, the TSHA convention featured a Capitol Hill visit with more than 300 members. During this visit, 10 undergraduate speech-language pathology students from Texas Christian University (TCU) were paired with TSHA mentors, and introduced to the legislative process, said TSHA President Lynn Flahive.
The students’ perspective impressed legislators, recalled Megan Novick. “I told representatives that as much as I would like to graduate next year and go straight to work, I am just not prepared to do so. The only children that I would be able to treat with any level of competency are students with articulation and language errors,” said Novak, who plans to pursue a graduate degree.
Another student, Mary Velasquez, added, “It was great to see professional SLPs act as role models, leaders, and delegates as we made our case. I think we made an impact not only legislatively, but on each other as well.”
Waiting and Watching
The Senate passed a compromise bill that eliminated the objectionable section of the bill and replaced it with a provision allowing experienced speech-language pathology assistants to attend admission, review, and dismissal meetings under certain circumstances. The legislature took no action on the bill before its regular session adjourned on May 30. As a result, standards for speech-language pathology practice in the schools remained in place.
On June 19, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the entire $33.6 billion school budget, forcing the Texas legislature back into a 30-day special session beginning June 21. Some experts doubt that the legislature will be able to agree on a school budget when they haven’t been able to reach an agreement in the past four years.
“This means we must fight the battle all over again, and rally the forces one more time to ensure that school children in Texas with communicative disorders receive quality services,” Higdon said.
ASHA’s state policy unit supported TSHA’s efforts by providing information from the federal law, relevant documentation from a congressional conference committee on professional standards, and comments to the U.S. Department of Education on how standards can be maintained.
Since early this year, ASHA and TSHA have collaborated in developing strategy to oppose lower standards for school SLPs. In addition, Texas had been targeted under ASHA’s 2005 Focused Initiative on Personnel Issues and IDEA Personnel Qualifications to receive additional support in its advocacy activities.
A myriad of factors contribute to persistent vacancies in Texas public schools. These vacancies have propelled previous legislative efforts to reduce standards as the state searches for solutions, noted Cherry Wright, chairperson of the TSHA SLP School Vacancy Task Force. The demographics of Texas contribute to vacancies, particularly in shared service arrangements in rural areas where districts have difficulty filling positions for other special education personnel. Those districts that are unable to hire licensed SLPs must contract for services, which is a costly solution. Academic programs located far from urban areas have more difficulty recruiting students, limiting the supply of students with graduate degrees.
TSHA and the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education formed a joint committee in 2004 to develop a plan to address the issue, beginning a dialogue that facilitated the current legislative process, Flahive said.
“We all believe that children in public schools deserve qualified providers and we do not want a two-tier system,” Flahive said.
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July 2005
Volume 10, Issue 9