Federal financial incentives designed to lure teaches and
other educators to schools in difficult-to-staff locations—primarily rural
areas—aren't helping school districts recruit speech-language pathologists and audiologists. So some state associations are crafting their own programs and spearheading the effort to write the programs into state law.
The federal and local incentives take the form of student
loan forgiveness: Teachers with training in high-needs subjects who take jobs
in underserved locations may be eligible to have their federal student loans
forgiven. Sometimes, speech-language pathologists and audiologists are eligible
for the federal programs, but often they don't meet the specific criteria—having specific state teaching credentials, for example. Additionally, federal budget considerations will limit expansion of these programs, according to Neil Snyder, ASHA director of federal advocacy.
Savvy state associations, recognizing that loan forgiveness
programs can give a much-needed boost to school districts' efforts to recruit SLPs and audiologists, may want to work with their local legislatures to introduce and pass loan forgiveness legislation. A recent Leader Online article captured the successful efforts of the Mississippi
and Texas state associations, which did just that: A new Mississippi law
authorizes student loan repayment for SLPs who work in underserved schools, and
a new Texas law authorizes loan forgiveness for SLPs and audiologists who work
in underserved schools and for PhD students in communication sciences and
disorders who commit to working in higher education.
The process to obtain loan- forgiveness legislation can be
slow and frustrating, and careful planning, preparation and persistence are
vital. The principles and lessons learned from the Mississippi and Texas
experiences can serve as keys to similar initiatives in other states. Any
efforts to develop, introduce and advocate for loan forgiveness legislation
should be collaborative—involving state leaders and members and other
stakeholders—and include several important elements:
1. Collect data. Both the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing
Association and the Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association collected
data vital to their efforts. TSHA used survey results from state special
education directors; MSHA collected information on the number of openings for
SLPs in the state's schools, the average cost of a speech-language pathology graduate program, the number of SLPs that stay in the state following graduation, and the number of graduates who choose to work in public schools.
ASHA also collects and posts nationwide and state-by-state
employment data through a number of vehicles:
2. Collect personal stories from constituents and graduate
students. Members can reach out to consumers who have been affected by a lack
of services or by the limitations on services provided by under-qualified
providers. Students can share their stories about financing their education.
Use these stories to convey to legislators the impact of shortages on children
and adults with communication disorders.
Inform, energize and engage members about the effects of
shortages on the profession and the state. Members need to understand that
personnel shortages open the door to under-qualified providers, increase the
caseload of existing SLPs, and result in a service gap for students with
communication disorders. They should also understand how a loan forgiveness
program could help address the shortage and be willing to help advocate for this
type of legislation.
3. Work with a lobbyist and legislative staff to draft
legislative language. Members and leaders lay the groundwork by articulating
the issue, collecting data to support loan forgiveness legislation, informing
and energizing members, and gathering stories and testimony about the impact of
the shortage on students and families. Armed with that information, the
association's lobbyist and legislative staff can begin to draft legislative language. This process works differently in every state, so make sure you understand your state's requirements.
4. Identify legislative supporters and opponents. The state
association, lobbyist and members can help identify legislators who will
champion the bill. Sometimes, legislators or their family and friends have been
affected by a communication disorder and understand the need for competent
5. Consider working with other professional organizations if
that would strengthen your position. Loan forgiveness is an issue with broad
appeal. Other state professional organizations, such as special education
directors, school board associations, and related professional associations
such as occupational and physical therapy organizations, may be interested in
joining the effort.
6. Ensure that grassroots advocates are informed, organized
and ready to act. Identify members who will join the lobbying effort. Enhance
your efforts with regular communication—texts, e-mail alerts, website
updates—so that everyone has and conveys the same information. Students are
critical in establishing the need for loan repayment for PhD faculty, and can
be organized through communication and collaboration with local chapters of the
National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.
7. Develop comments/talking points for advocates to use in
their communication with legislators. Members can help develop talking points,
gather personal stories, and create scripts for advocates. Give the legislators
a flyer listing succinct points to remind them of the importance of loan
forgiveness and to share with his or her staff.
8. Meet with legislators to garner support. Using the
talking points and flyers, meet with legislators in their home districts to
introduce the concept of loan forgiveness, and follow up with visits in the
capitol during the legislative session.
9. Be persistent. As with any legislative effort, members
need to be patient—yet persistent. If your bill is not successful the first
time, don't give up! Be prepared to answer any questions and address your opponents' concerns before you introduce your bill again.
10. Be ready to compromise. As both Mississippi and Texas
leaders learned, sometimes you have to accept less than what you asked for.
Both states successfully advocated for loan forgiveness legislation, but the
bills only authorize the programs—neither legislature appropriated any money to
fund the initiative. The Mississippi and Texas associations recognize that
funding the acts will be their next legislative challenge.