“The path to success is to take massive, determined actions” (Robbins 2020). School librarians must take such steps when talking with decision-makers about how to seek funds for their school libraries via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This federal act has allocated billions in funding for K–12 education. As school librarians, we understand the power of knowledge, preparation, and execution. Understanding and navigating ARPA will take all of us and our stakeholders working together. Below, Dr. Alan Inouye, director of Public Policy and Government Relations for ALA Public Policy and Advocacy, shares information about how school librarians can take full advantage of the ARPA provisions.
When will the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds be made available and what is the timeline for distribution? How much will be available for K–12 education? Is any amount specifically earmarked for school librarians?
$200 million will go to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) immediately.
$360 billion will go to state and local governments. State and local government recipients can use the funds to cover costs incurred by Dec. 31, 2024. The funds will be distributed in two tranches, with 50 percent delivered no later than 60 days after the state provides the required certification that funds will be used for appropriate recovery priorities, and the remainder delivered no earlier than one year later. States will have to distribute funds to smaller towns within 30 days of receiving a payment from the department.
$122 billion is allotted for K–12 schools, including $81 billion via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER). Funding has already been released, and more will be available in the coming months.
$7.172 billion via an emergency connectivity fund is available through the E-Rate program.
School librarians need to make the case to their state, local, and district leaders to allocate funding for school libraries and librarians. It varies by type of funding when it will be available for distribution, but school librarians must move quickly and start requesting funds now.
Check out the ALA school library toolkit for some ideas. The toolkit is available at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/american-rescue-plan-state-guide. There are a number of resources available specifically for school librarians including templates for op-eds; letters to principals, superintendents, and/or local officials; and sample talking points to make a case for ARPA funding.
Who should AASL Chapters approach in their state to ensure federal funds are available for use by school libraries?
For state and/or local funding, you will need to contact the designated offices within each state department of each education in each locality. You may also contact local elected officials for their guidance and support. For education funding, the funds are directed to the state office in charge of each state education office (https://ccsso.org/). IMLS funding is directed to the State Library Administrative Agency.
One place to start is to ask government decision makers and influencers who you have established relationships with.
Are there restrictions on how ARPA funds can be used? Should school librarians attempt to partner with other organizations to acquire funding?
We encourage school librarians to be creative and innovative in thinking about the ARPA funding–consider partnering with other local community organizations such as public libraries, local parks and recreation agencies, farmers’ markets, and others in your school community.
ARPA funding from the education stabilization fund is intended for use in safely reopening school buildings, hiring additional staff, reducing class size, modifying school spaces, and addressing student needs–20 percent is designated for addressing learning loss.
State and local money is intended to offset cuts to public health, safety, education, and library programs as well as to aid in COVID pandemic relief and recovery efforts.
Federal agencies are in the process of writing guidance and general priorities for their funding. ARPA is intended to provide maximum flexibility in how states, localities, and use the funds to meet local needs.
What advice would you give building-level school librarians who want to advocate for ARPA funds for their learning communities?
Be innovative and approach district leadership or other decision makers and influencers with an actionable plan. You can find inspiration in our toolkit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/american-rescue-plan-state-guide.
Seek out partnerships with local and state organizations.
The funding is intended to align with the priorities laid out by President Biden and the U.S. Department of Education to safely reopen schools; mitigate learning loss; address the academic, social-emotional, and mental health needs of students; and tackle issues of connectivity and access for all communities. School libraries should align their funding requests with these priorities. Ideas include summer literacy programs, enrichment programming, robust digital collections, additional library staff positions, reconfiguring library space for optimal learning and safety, and necessary technology and equipment.
Is there any additional information you think will be helpful to school librarians?
ALA’s “American Rescue Plan Act: State Funding Guide”: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/american-rescue-plan-state-guide
ALA’s “COVID-19 Library Relief Update”: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/american-rescue-plan-library-relief
Some state decisions surrounding the distribution of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are already being made, and the impact of those allocations will have a long-term impact on K–12 education. This entire endeavor is not a sprint but a marathon, and we as school librarian have to educate ourselves and prepare to take full advantage of this momentous opportunity. Our learning communities are depending on us.