We all recognize the importance of well-stocked school libraries with the latest technology and resources for our students led by state-certified school librarians and the positive impact they have on teaching and learning. Years of research studies continue to make these connections proving K-12 libraries and librarians are essential components to a quality education. Why then are school libraries such a hard sell to those at the local level making funding decisions?
Many school librarians do an excellent job “selling” school library programs as critical to student learning. The problem is funding and neighboring school districts that decide to eliminate school library programs and librarian positions. This has become a spreading disease. School administrators and board members look to other schools to see how they are balancing budgets in these difficult times. Cutting and/or starving an expensive program that may or may not be required by state educational codes seems a no-brainer. And the mountain of research that we have on the impact of school librarians and libraries in student achievement sadly is not enough to change the minds of those who have to decide between funding kindergarten or library programs.
As an example, California employed 804 school librarians for the 2012-13 school year which translates to one certified school librarian for every 7,784 students, according to the California Department of Education (CDE). The national average in the fall of 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, was one school librarian for every 1,022 students, according to The National Center for Education Statistics. California had the lowest per-student ratio of any state and has become the poster-child for school library cuts. Interviewed for the blog EdSource in the spring of 2014 about the continued cuts, Janice Gilmore-See, past-president of the California School Library Association said “The lack of certified librarians has led to a decrease in student access to books, a decline in student research skills and the loss of an important resource for teachers.”
According to Deb Kachel from Mansfield University and the co-chair of the PSLA Legislation Committee, “in Pennsylvania, we have 253 state legislators, 500 school districts each with its own school board, and approx. 3,100 schools. Asking individual librarians to try to stand up in their buildings against the tsunami of school library cuts that are happening nationwide and seen as viable budget solutions just isn’t going to work. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter how good a program you have! Nor, from my perspective in Pennsylvania, is trying to impact the decisions of 253 state legislators, most of who strongly believe in local autonomy, allowing school districts to make decisions especially about non-mandated programs like school libraries.”
Despite a lot of pessimism regarding the current state of school libraries, our profession has an unprecedented opportunity to set the tone at the national level to begin new conversations about the impact of effective school library programs.
The U.S. Congress is currently working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), known most recently as the No Child Left Behind Act. Due for reauthorization since 2009, Congress seems to be bogged down in disagreements over standardized testing and teacher evaluation systems. While this ensues, we have an opportunity to get language in a draft that supports school library programs and librarians.
We have friends in Congress on both sides of the aisle. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) have dusted off and reintroduced the SKILLS Act (S.312) that supports dedicated funding for effective school library programs under ESEA.
What is an effective school library program? ALA believes that reauthorization of ESEA must include dedicated support for effective school library programs that:
- Are staffed by a state-certified school librarian;
- Have up-to-date books, materials, equipment and technology;
- Include regular collaboration between classroom teachers and school librarians to assist with development and implementation of the curriculum; and
- Support the development of digital literacy skills.
Senators Reed (D-RI) and Cochran (R-MS) are seeking co-sponsors now. With enough pressure from you and fellow school library supporters, that legislation could become part of the ESEA bill. Visit the District Dispatch for more.
However, the window of opportunity is small and growing smaller! Contact your U.S. Senators and tell them that school libraries need to be included in the reauthorization of ESEA. Get your friends, families and colleagues to do the same! This is not going to happen without the help of the entire educational community.
If federal legislation confirmed that all K-12 school students, regardless of the wealth of their communities, need quality school library programs with certified school librarians to learn and succeed this would go a long way to move states and local school districts to reevaluate their positions that school library programs and staffing are educational frills. So, if you feel that ESEA has little to do with your daily job as a school librarian, think again. Contact your U.S. Senator TODAY!
Here is the ALA position on ESEA and what we need.
Jay Bansbach, Chair – AASL Legislation Committee; Deb Kachel, Member – ALA Committee on Legislation; Cassandra Barnett, Member – AASL Legislation Committee