The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted for additional funding for speech pathology, but the issue runs deeper for most districts.
Speech pathology services are a necessary, but costly, asset for most schools. Some larger schools have on-staff speech pathologists, but most schools don’t, opting to find less expensive ways to provide the service. However, schools across the board have struggled under the weight of providing speech therapy to students in the face of budget cuts.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to restore a $5,000 bonus for nationally certified speech-language pathologists, audiologists and school psychologists last month, to go into effect this year. The bonus hinges on the approval of a $3.65 million transfer from the flexible benefit allowance.
Ardmore City Schools Superintendent Kim Holland said speech pathology falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which means schools must provide services to students.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Holland said. “The school does not get to say ‘well, we can’t afford that.’ You have to find a way.”
Ardmore City Schools, one of the larger schools in the county, went from employing one speech pathologist to four in the last year to keep up with the increasing demand.
“It’s huge,” Holland said. “It has been an increasing expense because speech paths can go to a hospital, so we’ve had to adjust our pay scale.”
 The district has speech pathologists at Charles Evans, Jefferson, Will Rogers and Ardmore Middle School.
 “Last year it took a month or two to get all our kids tested and ready to go,” Holland said. “This year it was done within the first week of school.”
 Holland said in the past, the district used an online service called Telespeech to work with speech pathology students. Holland said the service followed IDEA, but it wasn’t as effective.
 “I felt like what we were doing here wasn’t adequate,” Holland said.
 Smaller districts go a different route entirely to meet students’ needs. The Tri-County Interlocal Cooperative, based in Fox, staffs speech pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists who serve 17 smaller school districts.
 Tri-county staff members travel between different school districts as needed.
 A spokesperson from Tri-County Interlocal Cooperative said that while they’ve only started serving three more districts within the last four years, she’s seen the number of individual students who need their services at each district increase.
 Wilson Superintendent Tonya Finnerty, whose district uses the co-op, said the problem isn’t just that speech pathologists are expensive.
 “The thing you’re going to find is that there are not a lot of certified speech paths that are going to come to schools,” Finnerty said. “They’d get a whole lot more money contracting out with an agency or working at a hospital.”
 She said that while the additional funding would be a positive, it wouldn’t solve the lack of professionals willing to take those positions.  
 “You’re going to have to play catch up to get people certified,” Finnerty said.