It's a familiar scenario: public schools with unfilled positions
for speech-language pathologists and audiologists. In Texas, the
shortage of both is statewide. In Mississippi, metropolitan area
schools are well-staffed, but more than 70 rural districts can't
find qualified SLPs.
The associations in both states led successful efforts to enact
student loan forgiveness laws to entice qualified graduates to work
in underserved areas. The legislative victories are only the first
phase of the effort, as neither has funding attached.
"In the current economic climate, it's not unusual for
legislation to be authorized and not appropriated," explained Janet
Deppe, ASHA director of state advocacy. "It can take several years
to get funding. But getting the legislation on the books is a
significant victory. It demonstrates that lawmakers understand the
need to attract and retain qualified speech-language pathology and
In Texas, legislation allows the state to forgive graduate
student loans for SLPs and audiologists who take school-based
positions and for new doctoral-level communication sciences
disorders faculty. Leaders of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing
Association are pleased with the new legislation, which they began
pursuing 10 years ago.
"Like just about every state in the country, Texas has a
shortage of SLPs in the schools and a shortage of doctoral-level
faculty in our CSD training programs," said Larry Higdon, TSHA
director of governmental relations. After several years of
groundwork, the state legislature filed a $7.5 million loan
repayment bill in 2009 that would forgive up to $30,000 in loans
for 250 new school-based clinicians and up to $45,000 in loans for
10 new doctoral-level faculty in the state's 17 CSD training
The bill passed both chambers of the Texas legislature and, to
meet legislative deadlines, was attached to another bill and sent
to the governor to sign. On the final day to take action, the
governor vetoed the larger bill, killing the attached loan
"We were shocked to read about it in the paper the next day,"
Higdon said. "We had no idea it was at risk. We thought we were
Undaunted, association leaders worked to have the bill re-filed
in 2011. (The Texas legislature meets every other year.) "But there
was no money that year," Higdon said. "The state had a $30 billion
deficit. We never even got a hearing. But we kept at it. We wanted
to remind the legislators, 'We're still here, we still need your
When the 2013 legislative session opened, TSHA leaders applied
the lessons they learned in 2011. They worked with legislators and
appropriations committees to try to get funding, "but no one would
champion it," Higdon said, despite a $2.7 billion budget
"We re-filed the identical bill, but with no funding attached to
it," Higdon said. "We added language that allows the loan repayment
program to accept awards, grants and gifts. It passed with no
problem and the governor signed it."
The association is weighing its options for seeking funding for
the bill in the future. In the interim, "we are considering
self-funding, foundation grants, and other sources," Higdon said.
The TSHA board is considering the use of association money; leaders
may ask that surplus funding collected in licensure fees by the
State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and
Audiology be used for the loan repayment program.
Pursuing other funding shows the Texas legislature that "we're
willing to put our money where our mouth is," Higdon said. "If we
go to them for money, we have a stronger case if we can say that
we're not just looking for a handout, that we're willing to work
with them to make this happen."
The personnel shortage in Texas has not abated. In 2011, there
were 1,320 unfilled positions in schools, translating into 66,000
students who were unserved or served by clinicians without master's
degrees (Texas allows bachelor's-level clinicians to work in
schools under the supervision of licensed SLPs). About 16 percent
of schools reported vacancies; 75 percent contract with outside
agencies to fill positions, a move that costs $12,000 more per year
per outside provider.
According to a recent poll of students in the state's 17
training programs, the most-cited reason for not pursuing a
master's degree is the cost, Higdon said, adding that "the children
of Texas need this legislation."
For several years, school district superintendents in the more
rural areas of Mississippi had been concerned about their inability
to fill SLP positions. In response, the state board of education
and legislature—unbeknownst to the Mississippi
Speech-Language-Hearing Association—developed and passed a new
licensure law in 2010. The law creates a permanent, renewable "216"
license that allows bachelor's-level speech-language pathology
graduates to provide pediatric articulation treatment in public
schools, "under the guidance/direction of, and in collaboration
with, a master's-level, fully-certified" SLP.
The new license, which took effect July 1, 2013, was designed to
replace the temporary "emergency certificates" and "interim
certificates" school districts would obtain to hire
bachelor's-level clinicians to fill openings, according to Carolyn
Wiles Higdon, 2011 MSHA president. In the 2011–2012 school year,
150 speech-language pathology providers in Mississippi public
schools were working under the temporary, one-year certificates, in
addition to the 800 master's-level SLPs in the state's public
In response to this new 216 certification, speech-language
pathology leaders requested a statewide interdisciplinary task
force to address the new certification and to approach the rural
shortage more comprehensively. The state's superintendent of
education and Institutions of Higher Learning Board appointed the
task force to:
- Work with the state board of education to develop requirements
for the certificate and to develop a training program-specifically
for those holding emergency and interim certificates, who would
have lost their jobs July 1—to meet the requirements.
- Work with the state's five undergraduate programs to integrate
the 216 certificate training requirements.
- Work with the graduate speech-language pathology training
programs to attract more students through part-time and online
graduate training opportunities.
- Address supervision training for licensed, certified SLPs.
- Support MSHA's efforts to develop marketing videos to support
recruitment and retention efforts.
- Develop the student loan forgiveness program for master's-level
graduates taking jobs in rural public schools.
"The task force debated ways to entice people to rural schools,"
Wiles Higdon said, "and we decided on a loan forgiveness focus,
because graduate education is expensive." MSHA wrote a bill for a
loan forgiveness program that requires students to work in a rural
school for at least two years-one year for every year of graduate
training. "Research tells us that if an SLP stays in a job two or
three years, there's a higher likelihood of that person remaining
in the job," Wiles Higdon explained.
The bill, which calls for up to $35,000 in student loan
forgiveness for 10 students per year, passed the legislature in
"We took our lobbyist's advice and didn't start by asking for
the moon," Wiles Higdon said. "We knew it was going to be a three-
to five-year process. We went back to the legislature in 2013 to
get it funded, but the general approach to the budget this year in
Mississippi was that nothing new was going to be funded. So we will
go back again in 2014 with our data and outcomes."
The law includes only SLPs because, Wiles Higdon said, "We were
new at this, and reacting to the bachelor's-level certificate that
was developed and approved in 2010. Our focus was on how to get
master's-level SLPs into rural school systems in Mississippi."
Despite the funding challenges, Wiles Higdon sees the glass as
half-full. "And our lobbyist is optimistic, too," she says. "We may
go back with a compromise of five students each year for a couple
of years, show the data that the program is working, and then ask
for increased support."