Do you hear that, SLPs? It’s the crescendo of voices coming together, voices increasing in volume and voices speaking in cadence to a valuable message. These are the voices of speech-language pathologists. “We work hard. Our efforts are valuable. We have earned it. It is time. It is time for change.” Nationwide, school-based speech-language pathologists are garnering their energies to advocate for 1) changes within educational systems, 2) increased compensation for their workload, 3) boundaries and parameters on workload and 3) earned respect for the meaningful work we do. Educators, including SLPs, have marched at their state capitol in states including Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Maryland. Los Angeles SLPs also joined the efforts of the L.A. Teachers Union Strike. This, friends, is SLP Advocacy.
Locally, we have witnessed our Austin Independent School District (AISD) SLPs, adorning a united front with bright blue shirts, collectively attend their school district board meeting to vehemently demand change. They have also reached out to their state representatives, and people are listening.
In this video of the AISD School Board Meeting, (slide the bar to 48:40-50:40 and) watch Jane, eloquently advocate for our profession. Within two minutes, she speaks to SLP retention, compensation, workload and cost of contracted services. Also, notice the sea of blue standing behind her, united in effort.
For those of us who like information in a written format, here is the SLP advocacy language transcription:
“My name is Jane Aldridge. I am an AISD speech-language pathologist, taxpayer and parent. I’m here with my colleagues to request time at a future meeting to discuss our compensation and workload. Our pay is far below national, state, and local levels for SLPs. This impedes both hiring and retaining AISD speech therapists. We lost 20% of our SLPs from last year. This year, we have not been able to fill all our open positions. We currently serve nearly 4,000 AISD students and their families. Our services are mandated through IDEA law, and we love providing quality services to families.
Our annual salary in AISD is as much as $13,000 below the neighboring school districts. We recognize that AISD participates in social security and that contract length may vary, but the salary discrepancy is not explained by those differences. Our mid-career pay is nationally in the bottom 10th percentile compared with other school-based SLPs, despite Austin’s high cost of living. In addition, over the last several years, the number of students we case manage, evaluate and treat for speech and language disorders has exploded.
When we are not fully staffed, the district and taxpayers must pay costly contractors to provide mandatory services. Last year, AISD paid speech therapy contract providers nearly $600,000. Given the number of this year’s unfilled positions, the district is on track to spend even more in contract fees. We did not receive the pay raise that SEES staff and physical therapists received last year. This year, we are not included in the 7% raise for instructional staff with 5+ years of experience]. We also do not receive teacher pay perks like PPfT, extra pay for national certification or a stipend for licensure or supervising student interns.
We ask you to allot us time in the next meeting so that we can explain our role in AISD and why a salary increase for SLPs is needed to insure that all eligible students receive economical, efficacious and IEP compliant services.”
Thank you to Austin ISD SLPs for letting us share this valuable content.
As SLPs, the day-to-day responsibilities can be grueling and overwhelming. Yet, we know that action needs to take place within our days. In saying that, we give much thanks to the SLPs who are paving a path for us. We acknowledge that it is no easy feat to step out and step up for the profession. Your efforts are honored. Your actions will serve as an IEP for potential SLP plans, and we cannot wait to review the data in a year to (hopefully) see meaningful change. Here’s to unveiling the truth in our profession, and here’s to the inevitable change.
For more content on ways to advocate at the campus, district and state levels, join Phuong Lien Palafox’s SLP Impact course, SLP, Hear Me Roar: Considerations and Advocacy in Speech-Language Pathology on October 4, 2019 at 2pm CST. Phuong also discusses advocacy in her new book: The Heartbeat of Speech-Language Pathology.