Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2022 29 Education played a prominent role in the discourse surrounding this past November’s election, with candidates on both sides of the aisle fighting for what they believe is best for our students.With all eyes on the direction of Virginia’s schools, it is time to make a case for some of the unsung heroes of education: speech-language pathologists, also known as SLPs. They are the experts who specialize in children’s communication skills, and they are valuable team members who support children with communication deficits and disorders. While their scope of practice is incredibly broad, they most commonly serve children with speech sound disorders, who have trouble producing some of the sounds in words (est. prevalence: 8% of children); children with language disorders, who have difficulty learning and using age-appropriate vocabulary and grammar, verbally or in writing (est. prevalence: 8-10% of elementary-age children); and fluency disorders such as stuttering (est. prevalence: 2-5% of children). In addition to serving these children with communication disorders, SLPs also support students with other disorders that may impact communication, such as learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, intellectual disabilities, and more. Needless to say, SLPs stay busy! Speech-language impairments are the third most common disability category among Virginia’s students receiving special education services (behind Specific Learning Disability and Other Health Impairment), and in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, they are the most common disability category. In some districts, as many as half of students enrolled in special education see an SLP! In contrast, lower caseloads allow SLPs to provide higher-quality services to students, thus improving student outcomes. In fact, these improved student outcomes are not limited to their communication skills, but actually impact a broad range of academic and social domains. One example is the association between language and behavior; children with language delays are twice as likely to develop behavioral problems, and indeed, nearly all students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders also present with language deficits. SLPs can play a vital role in supporting these children by helping develop the language and communication skills so that they can talk (and reason) their way through problems rather than resorting to challenging behaviors. Inaddition to theevidence that lower caseloadsmay lead to improved student outcomes (as described above), there is further evidence that lower caseloads are also associated with other benefits. Among these are improved recruitment and retention of SLPs, improved supervision and training for SLPs and other support personnel, opportunities for professional development and leadership roles, higher levels of compliance with special education regulations and policies, and more time to devote to valuable tasks such as evaluations and paperwork for Medicaid reimbursement. Taken together, these benefits demonstrate how reducing SLPs’ caseloads is a fiscally-responsible action: schools will spend less money recruiting and training replacements for burntout SLPs, schools will face fewer lawsuits from families who believe they are not receiving a free and appropriate education, and schools may see an influx of Medicaid funding from SLPs who have more time to submit their reimbursement paperwork. The Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia (SHAV) requests that the General Assembly pass legislation to lower the “caseload cap,” which is the maximum number of students that an SLP may serve, from 68 students to 58 students over the course of two years. Unsung Heroes of Education: Speech-Language Pathologists By REED SENTER In 1994, the General Assembly declared their intention to lower SLPs’ caseloads to the national average by the year 1999; our current caseload cap of 68 is well above the national average of, SLP job satisfaction, and schools’ capacity to recruit from SLPs working in other states or clinical settings. We humbly ask for your support in our initiative to lower SLPs’ caseload caps. If you would like to learn more about this issue or how you can help, please reach out to Reed Senter, SHAV’s Vice President for Governmental and Professional Affairs, by sending an email to Reed Senter is a speech-language pathologist, and has spent most of his career serving middle- and high-school students. He also currently serves the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia as the Vice President for Governmental and Professional Affairs. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Maryland. How did I become a “Senior” so fast? By KEN JESSUP I had an insufferably long day at the General Assembly and my wife Faye and I were on our way home to Virginia Beach. At that time, Faye worked across the street from the Capitol, in the old 9th Street Office Building, so we were able to commute together. A lobbyist's work is never done, or that’s what it feels like. It was around 9:30 at night we were on Route 460 going home, when we decided to unwind by taking the long way home! As we approached Windsor, Waverly or Wakefield (one of the three W’S) on 460 we came across fine dining at the Burger King. Hunger ruled we pulled in. Oh gosh, I remember how I felt that night! It was a long, long day at the General Assembly. I’m sure we looked tired, or maybe even like hobos, especially I with my crumpled suit and tie. At the General Assembly Building, I had been walking all 12 floors talking to everybody that I had to talk to and getting things accomplished. I was exhausted, so I can just imagine how I looked at the age of 48. By the way, did I mention I was 48? So, when we ordered our Burger King meal, whopper, fries, coke, we sat down to enjoy a peaceful night and a little bit of rest and relaxation. I decided to look at the bill because the final total did not seem to come out quite right. I’m sitting there adding up everything and I notice there’s a large sum of money subtracted from the bill. I told Faye, I need to go to the counter and correct this. Meanwhile, there’s a young man mopping the floor and cleaning up for the night. I told him about it. He said, “May I look at the bill?” and I said, “Sure here’s the bill”. He looked down at the bill, and looked at me, and he said, “Oh, there’s no mistake. There’s no problem. This is your senior citizen discount!!!” It was then that I realized, with pain, that working in politics was going to make an old man out of me very, very quickly. Needless to say, we never stopped at that Burger King again! Ken Jessup is a retired lobbyist and a member of the Board for the Blind and Vision Impaired. V