School-Based Members Advocate on Capitol Hill I was one of about 30 attendees at the ASHA Schools Conference, held July 8–10, who stayed an extra day in the D.C. area for visits to our U.S. senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. No one was more surprised than I was that I even signed up for this ... Grassroots 101
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Grassroots 101  |   August 01, 2011
School-Based Members Advocate on Capitol Hill
Author Notes
  • Pat Mervine, MA, CCC-SLP, is a school-based clinician and creator of speakingofspeech.com. Contact her at mervinep@mac.com.
    Pat Mervine, MA, CCC-SLP, is a school-based clinician and creator of speakingofspeech.com. Contact her at mervinep@mac.com.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Grassroots 101
Grassroots 101   |   August 01, 2011
School-Based Members Advocate on Capitol Hill
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.GR.16102011.30
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.GR.16102011.30
I was one of about 30 attendees at the ASHA Schools Conference, held July 8–10, who stayed an extra day in the D.C. area for visits to our U.S. senators and representatives on Capitol Hill.
No one was more surprised than I was that I even signed up for this opportunity. For most of my adult life, the most politically active thing I ever did was pull the lever in the voting booth. Recently I have become increasing involved in local, state, and federal politics, and I now realize that one person really can make a difference.
We spent Sunday afternoon in a two-hour training session with staff from ASHA’s “Speak Out, Be Heard!” federal advocacy program. The training included a review of the legislative process and an overview of ASHA’s positions on upcoming legislation related to school-age speech, language, and hearing services.
Our visits focused on two major issues:
  • Early intervening services. Children in the general education population who are struggling to access the regular curriculum should receive speech-language support and intervention. SLPs know this concept as response to intervention (RTI)—providing consultative and direct services to students at risk who have not yet been identified or gone through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. Unfortunately, the federal government uses the term “early intervening services” (EIS), which is easily confused with early intervention services provided to children from birth to 5 years old. Current law allows up to 15% of Individual With Disabilities Education Act funds to be used for EIS. ASHA is encouraging increased EIS funding in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to ensure that all students receive needed supports and to prevent over-identification of students as in need of special education when their needs can be met through general education EIS.

  • Federal literacy programs. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists should be recognized providers of services under any new federal comprehensive literacy legislation, such as the Literacy Education for All, Results for the National Act (LEARN Act) and reauthorization of ESEA.

Following this training, I spent the evening reviewing the “talking points” and other detailed information provided in our packets—then came up with specific examples from my own caseload that I could use to put a face on these issues during my meetings the next day.
On Monday we all met at ASHA’s D.C. office, located just a block from the Capitol, and then split up to attend prearranged meetings in legislators’ offices. My husband had participated in similar advocacy meetings on health care issues, and he accompanied me to my appointments. I was grateful for the company, as the experience was rather daunting at first. Several ASHA staff members were on hand to provide moral support and to help us navigate the maze of buildings.
I had appointments in the offices of all three of my elected Pennsylvania representatives: Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) and Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Patrick Toomy (R). All congressional office buildings are connected by underground tunnels for pedestrians and trams that shuttle the representatives back and forth. Two interns from Fitzpatrick’s office escorted us to our next appointment in the Senate office buildings, guiding us through the tunnels, getting us special security badges, and even taking us on one of the trams. Sen. Harry Reid crossed our path and we saw several TV cameras taping interviews with members of Congress about the debt ceiling negotiations. The word “awesome” is often overused and trivialized, but we really were in awe of the sense of power and gravitas exuded by the people and places on Capitol Hill.
In all three offices, I met with legislative assistants who specialize in education issues. All were confused about the difference between “early intervening” and “early intervention.” The visits were a good opportunity to clear up those misconceptions, and I used a specific example from my caseload to illustrate the importance of early intervening services.
My school district does not yet support RTI for speech and language, but I had received permission from my principal to work on a six-week “diagnostic” trial with a kindergarten student with articulation issues who didn’t qualify for my caseload but who was struggling with phonological awareness and reading. As a result of these “early intervening” services (10 minutes three times per week from late April to the first week in June), this student made significant gains in articulation and reading, entered first grade with solid skills, and needed no further support. Following the traditional IEP process would have meant a significant delay in helping this student, plus a great deal of time and expense for all the paperwork. This story also illustrates how SLPs can facilitate literacy development. In all three meetings, I stressed better student outcomes and more effective, efficient, economical service delivery.
After our appointments, we met back at the ASHA office to report our experiences. Without exception, we found the experience to be very positive, and several of us (me included) have volunteered to be “grassroots captains” to serve as primary contacts with U.S. senators and representatives to protect and promote our professions by increasing awareness of relevant public policy issues.
I am one SLP but I represent nearly 100 SLPs who work in my county and 5,500 SLPs who work in my state. By taking the time to visit Capitol Hill, I was able to translate the “legalese” of the pending legislation into the story of one little boy.
We all have similar stories—you might want to consider sharing yours with your elected officials. You don’t have to travel to D.C.; you can make an appointment with your senator and congressperson or their legislative assistants in local district offices. A 15- to 30-minute visit can make a big impact, as can making phone calls and writing letters. Elected officials truly pay attention to these contacts from constituents.
ASHA is making a strong commitment to protecting and promoting the professions through its “Speak Out, Be Heard!” federal advocacy program. Members are also needed to serve as the key advocacy contact for their members of Congress. With the multitude of issues being debated on Capitol Hill, lawmakers rely on their constituents as trusted resources on many policy issues. Volunteers are needed from every congressional district and state to help develop these relationships and educate lawmakers on the importance of the professions. No prior experience in advocacy is needed—just a willingness to speak out and be heard. For more information, visit ASHA’s advocacy webpage.
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August 2011
Volume 16, Issue 10