School Speech Pathology Caseload Size and Money!

In 2008 came the big economic crash in the U. S.  Prior to that, school SLPs complained about having large caseloads and the “burnout” problem.  Across the country it seems caseloads were 35% over what they should have been.  Advocates said SLPs needed to fight for caseload controls state-by-state.  All this was true.

Come 2o11, hard times have hit American schools.  There is no more federal economic development money to give schools, and state funds are bad because states have budget problems.  Result? School administrators are looking at their budgets trying to find funds to maintain their programs.  Not only are SLP caseloads stuck at current levels, there is a threat they will get larger in some parts of the U. S.  There is also a threat and some reality to cut backs in SLP staffing as administrators make their cuts.

Summer day, Canal St. Martin

All this raises questions about the ethics of school budget administration.  As pointed out in earlier posts, there is evidence from the boom period more children were placed in special education for budget benefits apart from disability evaluations.  Special education funding was 2:1 for each special education child, on average.  Now it seems special education is costing too much and general education programs are suffering.  So superintendents in some places are taking back money for special education.  We here talk about the desirability of “inclusive education” because it costs less money.  We hear about the desirability of cutting out related services personnel and special education teachers.  Response To Intervention though having its own merits looks desirable as a means of cutting down on special education numbers and costs.

States could get into a mess cutting personnel who are need to maintain IEP commitments.  They could lose federal money, and have parent lawsuits.  On the other hand, some states are in such dire circumstances school administrators are willing to take the risks to fight for essential programs.

What is troubling is affirmation of a pattern of school funding where special education children are pons in a scheme to keep schools set up as they are.  The focus is lost on essential values and responsibilities.  Lost too is a creative response to make use of programs that reduce costs and help special education children to a maximum extent, such as RTI or preschool prevention. 

General education wins on new terms.  General education did poorly on Title 1 remedial programs and pushed children into special education to relieve teachers and benefit from the extra funding.  Now the potential is for special needs children to float in Title 1 and Tier 3 of RTI lost in the shuffle of budget cutting.

Many school districts are fighting for special education children in an honest and helpful way.  Bravo!  Some push them around for expedience.

In this era school SLPs must continue to be proud of their work while empowering themselves to improve management of their caseloads for ethical and practical purposes.  They can stop putting so many children in special education and dismissing them in a timely fashion.  They can work so support collaborative programs like RTI.  They can try to move into reading intervention a bit more to interweave goals with general education.  They can cut down on the use of pull out service delivery.

There is true value in school speech-language pathology and school administrators need to be thankful they have them on staff.  Yet school SLPs must sense the times and adapt their roles accordingly.

The same can be said for school psychologists, special education teachers and reading specialists.

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