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Demand For Speech Therapists Versus Availability Causing Crisis For The Florida Schools


With the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools across the nation are now required to offer services that were before considered a luxury for students with disabilities. One such service is for speech and language therapy.

In a memorandum to all Florida schools’ special education directors, Chief of Exceptional Education Bambi Lockman wrote that federal officials found that the Florida schools had “failed to provide speech and language-related services to children with disabilities”. She further noted that the officials stated that these services were necessary as outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, without which the children could not fully benefit from their special education.

Speech and language therapists help children who have trouble pronouncing words due to physical disabilities, such as a cleft palate, autism, or hearing impairments. Other children have problems expressing themselves, and some children cannot speak at all. Therapists help these children overcome a wide range of obstacles that interfere with their ability to learn.

Throughout the Florida schools there are nearly 93,000 children who are considered speech or language impaired. That is 18 percent of all Florida schools’ students. Under the disabilities act, other students also will qualify for speech and language services, such as those children who are learning English as a second language. The demand for therapists by the Florida schools already is greater than the availability of such professionals, and officials expect that demand to grow even more once services are more readily offered.

Speech and language therapists have been in short supply in the Florida schools, as well as across the United States, for many years. Experts blame the shortage on the increasing demands for therapists by school districts across the nation and the considerably low pay offered, compared to the amount of education, certification and licensing required by the schools.

With the disabilities act, school caseloads have ballooned and are overwhelming. Many students, who would not have qualified for such services in the past, are now eligible and taking advantage of the free school-provided services.

The Florida schools require speech and language therapists to hold a minimum of a master’s degree, as well as be certified and licensed to practice within the state of Florida. Unfortunately, the Florida schools’ therapists are paid little more than a beginning teacher, who is required only to have a bachelor’s degree and who may or may not be certified in their area of expertise. For example, the Florida schools’ St. Lucie School District pays therapists only $8,000 more than a beginning teacher.

The majority of speech and language professionals are moving to work in medical and hospital settings, for private companies, or to go into business for themselves as private contractors. In the St. Lucie area, a speech therapist can earn upwards of $100 an hour as a private contractor. As with many teachers over the years, therapists are opting for higher wages and better working conditions.

This makes competition for the Florida schools very difficult. The St. Lucie School District had a difficult time hiring 16 additional speech therapists last year. This year, they prepared to meet the demand by hiring aides and college graduates, who are still working toward their master’s degrees and certifications.

The Florida schools’ Palm Beach County School District has gone beyond the federal requirements and will have an even higher demand for therapist services. They developed a plan that offers extra speech and language services to all of their elementary-level students with disabilities.

With language and speech playing a crucial role in a student’s development and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requiring the Florida schools to provide such services, therapists are much in demand and the shortage is even greater. This means that until the Florida schools can hire all of the needed therapists, the services offered will be limited to how many therapists each school district can manage to hire.

Submitted by:

Patricia Hawke

Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on Florida schools visit http://www.schoolsk-12.com/Florida/index.html









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