As a state with a "minority majority"—more than half of the population belongs to a racial/ethnic group other than Non-Hispanic White—New Mexico has a long history of supporting multiculturalism and bilingualism. Bilingualism is even recognized in the state's constitution, says Christine Begay Vining, president of the New Mexico Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NMSHA). This cultural and linguistic diversity shapes the practice of many of New Mexico's speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
House Joint Memorial 3 (HJM 3) was introduced earlier this year in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The memorial—a request for the legislature to examine an issue—called for the development and implementation of licensure qualifications for the endorsement of, and possible salary supplements for, school-based, bilingual clinicians. Although HJM 3 did not pass, its introduction marked an important milestone for New Mexico's bilingual clinicians.
Approximately 74 bilingual clinicians are currently listed in NMSHA's bilingual directory, with Spanish-speaking clinicians accounting for more than half, according to Begay Vining. She reports that New Mexico's bilingual practitioners primarily serve school-aged (5–17), Spanish-speaking children. Beyond schools, bilingual practitioners also are found in settings such as early intervention, preschool, nursing homes, and hospitals. And, in addition to many Spanish-speaking individuals, members of 14 Native American tribes with several different indigenous languages call New Mexico home.
"Serving communities where languages other than English are spoken presents unique challenges in the practices of speech-language pathology and audiology," says Begay Vining, a clinical instructor at the University of New Mexico. "A shortage of SLPs in some communities, the lack of bilingual clinicians, and referrals of students who speak English and other languages with varying degrees of proficiency have traditionally led to the overrepresentation of Hispanic and Native American students in special education. Second-language learners diagnosed with communication disorders often do not receive effective intervention that supports their native language.
"Bilingual services are needed so that bilingual practitioners can draw on their training on first-language developmental norms, second-language acquisition, and effects of bilingualism on language learning," she said.
Distinguishing linguistic differences from intrinsic disorders is "an important process in providing recommendations that address intervention in the child's native language," she adds. "A strong foundation in the first language supports academic learning and helps bilingual students with communication disorders to achieve their full potential."
Advocating for Change
Four years of advocacy by dedicated, bilingual SLPs led to the introduction of HJM 3. According to Mary Ellen Ulibarri, in 1998, SLPs in Albuquerque, NM, wrote a letter to the Alburqueque Public Schools' human resources office, requesting an examination of the increased responsibilities of bilingual SLPs and ways to recognize their bilingual skills, including a pay differential for their increased workload.
In October 2000, NMSHA discussed the development of an endorsement that would provide criteria for bilingual clinicians —similar to a legislated endorsement for audiologists who dispense hearing aids—with the New Mexico Speech-Language, Audiology, and Hearing Aid Dispensing Practices Board.
The issue of bilingual endorsement was included in a plan developed by the New Mexico State Education Advocacy Leader (SEAL), Kevin Caffrey. The Albuquerque clinicians—lead by Yvonne Soto-Gomez, Ulibarri, and Sue Chavez—discussed a differential for qualified clinicians with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, which had previously negotiated a $500 to $3,000 supplement for teachers with a bilingual and/or English as a Second Language endorsement. Since New Mexico clinicians do not possess teacher certification, the Albuquerque clinicians were not eligible for the supplement.
Last summer, NMSHA applied for an ASHA focused initiative state grant for assistance with pursuing an endorsement and salary supplement for qualified bilingual clinicians working in schools. Although the grant was not funded, Begay Vining says it provided a framework for pursuing the bilingual initiative.
During a forum at NMSHA's 2001 convention in September, clinicians showed overwhelming support for seeking legislation to examine the issue of bilingual qualifications for clinicians in schools. Working with a lobbyist, Diane Wood, NMSHA began to lay the groundwork for such legislation, and the clinicians' advocacy efforts came to fruition earlier this year when such legislation was proposed in the state House of Representatives. The vice-presidents for governmental affairs, Dana Reilly and Connie Maldegen, were instrumental in organizing the 2nd Annual NMSHA Day at the state legislature, and disseminating fact sheets to state legislators.
HJM 3, introduced by state Rep. Ray Begaye (D-District 4), proposed that the state Legislative Education Study Committee oversee the development and implementation of criteria and competencies for the endorsement of bilingual, school-based clinicians. HJM 3 also called for a cost-analysis of establishing a bilingual endorsement, including the cost of implementing educational programs to train individuals wishing to pursue the endorsement.
Wood reports that the state House of Representatives unanimously passed HJM 3. The state's Senate Education Committee and Senate Public Affairs Committee recommended passage of the legislation, but it died on the Senate floor, caught up in the crush of almost 300 other proposed memorials.
"The memorial was not intended to restrict or exclude others from serving bilingual students," Begay Vining says, "rather, it attempted to clarify the need for quality bilingual intervention based on clear credentialing criteria that would be established by the licensing board, state department of education, NMSHA, and other key stakeholders in collaboration with the Legislative Education Study Committee. This effort would impact the quality of bilingual service delivery through pre- and in-service training addressing specific linguistic and clinical competencies."
Looking toward the next legislative session, the state association's Diversity Committee will work with the New Mexico SEAL and the vice presidents for governmental affairs to establish a statewide advocacy network. NMSHA also will continue to form alliances with community partners, parent advocacy groups, and school boards.
"HJM3 is only the beginning of an effort that would lead to an official endorsement of bilingual clinicians and possible salary supplements," Begay Vining says. "Since we encountered little opposition this year, we are optimistic as we move toward the next legislative year."
Christine Begay Vining, Mary Ellen Ulibarri, Yvonne Soto-Gomez, Kevin Caffrey, and Diane Wood contributed to this story.