Oklahoma School-Based Clinicians Walk Out for Fair Salaries, Restored Education Funding Picket lines and legislative pressure yield success and reinstate certification stipend. State of Success
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State of Success  |   November 01, 2018
Oklahoma School-Based Clinicians Walk Out for Fair Salaries, Restored Education Funding
Author Notes
  • Christina McDougall, MA, CCC-SLP, a public-school SLP, is immediate past chair of the Oklahoma Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Governmental Regulations Committee. cmcdougallok@gmail.com
    Christina McDougall, MA, CCC-SLP, a public-school SLP, is immediate past chair of the Oklahoma Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Governmental Regulations Committee. cmcdougallok@gmail.com×
  • Mona Ryan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Allied Health and chair of OSHA’s Governmental Regulations Committee. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; 16, School-Based Issues; and 18, Telepractice. mona-ryan@ouhsc.edu
    Mona Ryan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Allied Health and chair of OSHA’s Governmental Regulations Committee. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; 16, School-Based Issues; and 18, Telepractice. mona-ryan@ouhsc.edu×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / State of Success
State of Success   |   November 01, 2018
Oklahoma School-Based Clinicians Walk Out for Fair Salaries, Restored Education Funding
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, 38-40. doi:10.1044/leader.SOS.23112018.38
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, 38-40. doi:10.1044/leader.SOS.23112018.38
In April 2018, teachers and other public-school staff in Oklahoma made national news as they joined in a statewide walkout to appeal for higher pay and more school funding. Oklahoma’s school-based speech-language pathologists and members of the Oklahoma Speech-Language-Hearing Association (OSHA) joined in the picket lines and behind-the-scenes advocacy.
Why walk out?
Before the walkout for equitable salaries, benefits and resources, compensation for Oklahoma teachers (and school-based SLPs) was among the nation’s lowest, coming in at 48th in average classroom teacher pay in 2016, according to the National Education Association. In addition, state funds for public education had been cut by 28 percent since 2008—the deepest in the nation—according to a 2018 article in the Economist. More than 90 school districts in Oklahoma were forced into four-day school weeks, and teachers were fleeing to nearby states for salaries up to $10,000 higher.
But before the walkout and school closures, SLPs worried whether students would be safe and well-fed, and were also concerned about client-abandonment issues. To ensure students’ well-being, community groups such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, local churches and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma paired with local school districts to provide child care and meals for children affected by school closures.
To make sure SLPs complied with legal requirements, school districts required all evaluations and IEPs through the end of the school year be completed before the April 2 walkout. ASHA and OSHA provided guidance on ethical and practical issues in response to member concerns about participating in the walkout. The Oklahoma Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology consulted its assistant attorney general, who suggested that SLPs were not in legal jeopardy for abandonment because local school boards and administrations approved the walkout and schools were closed for the duration.

Many of the lawmakers listened patiently to our concerns about serving our clients and making a living wage; others locked their doors and refused to meet.

Action
SLPs joined other educators who traveled to Oklahoma City over two weeks in April. We waited in endless lines to visit with legislators. Many of the lawmakers listened patiently to our concerns about serving our clients and making a living wage; others locked their doors and refused to meet, even with constituents from their own district.
ASHA and OSHA could not directly endorse a labor action—but outside the Capitol, SLPs joined teachers on the quarter-mile picket line, sometimes bundling up against April rain, sometimes sweltering in the Oklahoma sun.
People of all political stripes joined together to voice support for public education. Networks of school-based SLPs and Facebook groups helped by disseminating talking points from the teachers’ unions as well as SLPs’ concerns. We posted pictures of SLPs protesting every day.
The collective pressure at the Capitol cemented education funding increases. The widespread demonstration of public support for public education also gave the state Department of Education extra clout in future negotiations for education appropriations. Finally, the increased awareness that resulted from the strike yielded record voter participation in state primary elections. Nine out of 10 House members who voted against the teacher pay increase either lost their races outright or were forced into a runoff.

People of all political stripes joined together to voice support for public education.

But what about the money?
Taking advantage of the heightened public and legislative awareness about school salaries, OSHA continued its effort during the walkout to restore recruitment and retention funds that had been cut from the state budget. In 2004, OSHA had worked with school psychologists on legislation requiring an annual stipend of $5,000 to nationally certified, state-licensed audiologists, SLPs and school psychologists directly employed by an Oklahoma school district.
However, with ongoing budget difficulties, the state legislature and Department of Education eliminated stipend funding in 2017 and 2018. While OSHA members made their concerns known, school administrators struggled to find enough SLPs to meet caseload demands and satisfy federal regulations. OSHA volunteers began monthly contact with the House education funding chair and the state school superintendent to address decreased staffing levels, higher caseloads, and possible legal exposure caused by the cuts.
When private meetings failed, OSHA representatives spoke during public comments at State Board of Education meetings. We raised awareness of SLPs’ roles in public education and tied our comments to the board agenda. When the board discussed literacy education, for example, we showed how SLPs work with at-risk students to ensure their success.
We knew we needed data to back up our claims about the detrimental effects of stipend cuts. OSHA and the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators surveyed special education directors about attrition among SLPs. The survey results demonstrated reduced retention and increased costs to the school districts for contract employees.
Repeated OSHA appeals pressured the superintendent and state director of special education to restore the stipend. Calls from SLPs poured in during the walkout to add to the pressure. When the legislation failed, state school administrators found money elsewhere in the budget to restore the stipend for 2019. Although the funds are safe for only one year, a member of the state House has committed to help us revise the law to ensure stable funding in the future.
Communication and persistence are the keys to success. In any advocacy effort, map out a strategy and take nothing for granted. Make sure you aggressively follow through with every step along the way. Use the grassroots support of your members. Keep track of your supporters—and your detractors—for future efforts.
Oklahoma Advocacy Brings Licensure Changes

OSHA was also in a three-year effort with the Oklahoma Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology to update licensure legislation. The board had allowed for temporary licensure for SLPs who were licensed in another state and/or had CCC-SLP credentials. We needed a provision in the licensure act to allow for temporary licenses for speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) and for clinical fellows (CFs).

The board started the rule-change process in 2016. But at the same time, the governor instituted a requirement that board members could not interact with any legislator. Only a designated liaison could contact the legislator. The designated liaison could not get legislation passed.

In 2017, the process started again. This time the liaison took the bill through the legislative process, sending emails, calling and visiting at each stop through the process. The bill was passed, but the governor vetoed it with no time left for an override.

In 2018, we started the process for the third time. This time, the liaison met with the governor’s staff to make certain her concerns were addressed. Last-minute opposition surfaced from otolaryngologists, who wanted all references to swallowing and balance removed from the licensure. After a quick response from ASHA and from leaders in the Oklahoma Hospital Association, the bill was heard in the Senate. It passed with no opposition and the governor signed it.

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FROM THIS ISSUE
November 2018
Volume 23, Issue 11