Paperwork and other administrative burdens are a top concern of school-based speech-language pathologists and audiologists—as well as teachers and school administrators nationwide.
And now an independent agency is recommending that the U.S. Department of Education do something about it.
School districts and states that receive money from federal programs—including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and school meal programs—must complete myriad forms and data reports to comply with federal regulations. In July 2011, a congressional committee asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the paperwork burden.
ASHA members have long indicated their concerns with paperwork and reporting requirements. In every ASHA survey [PDF] of school-based professionals since 2000 (conducted every two years), most SLPs (80%–88%) reported that a "high amount of paperwork" was their greatest professional challenge. Paperwork is listed as a top-level concern in ASHA's 2012 public policy agenda, which calls for the association to "Develop paperwork reduction strategies in collaboration with critical stakeholders, including the educational community, disability advocates, parents/guardians/families, ASHA members and federal/state agencies."
The GAO, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress to investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, reviewed the time and effort required in fiscal year 2011 to comply with the requirements of ESEA Title 1, IDEA Part B, and the National School Lunch and Schools Breakfast program.
In its review, the GAO requested information from selected officials in three states and 12 school districts on the most burdensome requirement, the cost of complying with the requirements, and federal efforts already underway to reduce or eliminate onerous requirements.
The report recommends that the Department of Education:
- Take additional steps to address duplicative reporting and data-collection efforts across programs.
- Work with stakeholders to identify unnecessarily burdensome statutory requirements and develop legislative proposals to help reduce or eliminate the burden.
In the study, key stakeholders identified 17 federal requirements as complicated, time-intensive, or both. GAO also reported that several of these "most burdensome" requirements ask for duplicative data. Many of those 17 may have an impact on SLPs and audiologists in the schools:
ESEA, Title I Part A (assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families)
- Academic assessments
- Adequate yearly progress data collection and reporting
- Alternative assessments
- Provision of services to eligible private school children
- State and district report cards
- Supplemental education services (SES) 20% obligation
- SES provider approval and monitoring
IDEA, Part B (assistance for education of all children with disabilities)
- IDEA indicators
- Individualized education program (IEP) processing
- Transition from Part C to Part B
Although stakeholders named these requirements as burdensome, they also identified some benefits for the data collection, including those related to IEP processing and to SES provider approval and monitoring.
The report also found that states and school districts do not collect information about the cost to comply with federal requirements, and that some school districts have a difficult time distinguishing federal requirements from state requirements and, therefore, may not be able to track costs separately.
To ensure that concerns of school-based SLPs and audiologists are addressed in Department of Education changes, ASHA has established an internal team to examine paperwork burden complexities and to develop legislative, regulatory, and practice strategies to help address this issue. ASHA conducted focus groups at the 2012 Schools Conference to gain a better understanding of the issue and its complexities, and is meeting with other provider groups and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive solution to this growing problem.