The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Ohio State Board of Education recently approved $5 million ($2.5 million per year for two years) to fund a proposal to address the shortage of speech-language pathologists in the schools.
The proposed program includes eight initiatives aimed at meeting three key goals: increasing the number of graduate-level students, encouraging more SLPs to work in the schools, and improving retention of school-based SLPs.
"I think if these initiatives succeed, immediate and future personnel shortages will be resolved because 100 new SLPs will enter Ohio's school workforce every year," said Nada Allender, project coordinator for the Ohio Master's Network Initiatives in Education-Speech Language Pathology (OMNIE). "If these initiatives are successful in making a difference, the Ohio Department of Education will continue funding in future years."
Developed by 16 stakeholders in just six weeks, the Ohio proposal testifies to the power of collaboration and political will in solving personnel shortages without licensing speech-language pathology assistants.
The path to solving the problem of chronic shortages started with a frustrated school administrator who couldn't find qualified SLPs to fill job openings in his area and asked his state legislator for help. The appeal led to a legislative study on how to solve personnel shortages. The study concluded that the answer was licensed speech-language pathology assistants—bachelor's-level professionals who could provide services to students under the direction of a licensed SLP. The legislature approached ODE about the licensure of assistants, and a three-member committee convened in early October to discuss the issue.
By the next meeting, the committee had grown to 16 stakeholders with representatives from Ohio's speech-language pathology and audiology professional organizations, academic graduate programs, the state licensure board, and department of education.
While the use of appropriately supervised and trained speech-language pathology assistants can be part of a multi-pronged solution to the shortage of qualified personnel in some states, members of the Ohio coalition agreed it was not a practical solution in Ohio. "Our mission was to craft a viable, creative plan to address the shortage of SLPs in the state by developing short- and long-term goals," said Kelly O'Reilly, a lobbyist for the Governmental Policy Group, which has represented a coalition of professional associations for the past 18 years.
Race Against Time
With the school year in full swing, students in some districts—particularly in rural areas—were receiving minimal speech-language pathology services. In other districts, staff juggled heavy caseloads or relied on contracted service providers. The ODE pressed the committee for a proposal presentation at the board's Dec. 11 meeting—just six weeks later.
"We knew we needed to address both the short-term and long-term problem of keeping SLPs in the schools," O'Reilly said. "We had to have a multi-part proposal so that we could get more SLPs in the schools as soon as possible—and then keep them there."
Each member of the committee, chaired by Lou Staffilino, ODE's associate superintendent, voiced concerns and ideas and developed recommendations. E-mails flew back and forth as initiatives were developed, Allender recalled. "With the development of the recommendations, travel, and meeting participation, everyone spent an enormous amount of time away from their regular jobs," she said.
Each stakeholder crafted a proposal that addressed the needs of all constituencies, including universities, professional communities, and school districts.
"Collaboration was the key to developing the proposal," Allender noted. "For example, universities compete for students, yet the graduate programs were able to come together and collaborate for the benefit of all involved."
The committee developed the final proposal by selecting among proposed initiatives, based on the outcome-effectiveness of each, and the state Board of Education voted to fund the proposal in December.
"ODE provided the support and resources to look at a long-term vision, rather than to just fix the immediate problems," said Barbara Conrad, a speech-language supervisor and consultant with the Ohio Speech-Language Supervisory and Audiology Network. "The ODE was open to hearing about the issues and possible solutions to have an impact over time. They realized that committee members had their fingers on the pulse of the issues and trusted us to draft great, innovative solutions."
Staffilino commended the level of professionalism among the committee members. "In my 34 years in education I have never worked with a more professional group of people," he said. "Each SLP brought unique work experiences and viewpoints, and the committee worked together to solve the issues.
"We all had one thing in common-we knew we had students who needed services and districts that needed SLPs," he said. "Our work was how to meet the need."
For more information about the proposal, contact Nada Allender, OMNIE project coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit OMNIE's Web site.