ESEA, School Librarians, and What Comes Next

EveryLibrary is excited to hear the news from the American Library Association​ Washington Office that ESEA reauthorization – with school library programs in the bill  – has passed the Senate and is going to the President for his signature. This reauthorization replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and is now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It is a significant and important reset of national education policy and funding options for school library programs, and therefore for school librarians because we’re written into the law again. NCLB was a disaster for school libraries and librarians. We’ve lost thousands of colleagues in K-12 and we’ve seen school libraries close around the country because they were not specifically included in NCLB.

Our next step as a library community is to start work on getting appropriations to flow to school libraries again. ESSA devolves a lot of authority to the states and Local Educational Agencies (LEA) on how funding priorities are set. But the new language allows for library programs in several key areas. When you think about how to restore and extend funding for school libraries and librarians, start with these facts:

– ESSA now includes “School Librarians” in the definition of “specialized instructional support personnel”. This was not the case with NCLB.  (Title VIII)

– ESSA includes new provisions that authorize local plans to include a description of how the LEA will assist schools in developing effective school library programs to provide students an opportunity to develop digital literacy skills and improve academic achievement. (Title I)

– States are now authorized to use funds to support the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.  (Title II, Part A)

– LEAs are authorized to use funds to support the instructional services provided by effective school library programs. (Title II, Part A)

– ESSA requires local grants that focus on children in K – 5 to provide high-quality professional development opportunities for specialized instructional support personnel, school librarians, paraprofessionals, and other program staff.  (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2)

– ESSA requires local grants that focus on children in grades 6 – 12 to provide training for school librarians and other school district personnel to support, develop, administer, and evaluate high-quality comprehensive literacy instruction initiatives. (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2)

– ESSA authorizes all local grants for K-5 or 6-12 to provide time for literacy staff such as school librarians or specialized instructional support personnel to meet to plan comprehensive literacy instruction. (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2)

– Funds to develop and enhance effective school library programs are specifically authorized by ESSA. These may include providing professional development for school librarians, books, and up-to-date materials to high need schools. (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2, Section 2226)

– Libraries are defined as eligible entities with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of American history and civics. (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2, Section 2232)

– States are authorized to use funds to assist LEAs with identifying and addressing technology readiness needs, including Internet connectivity and access to school libraries. (Title IV, Part A )

– States are authorized to use funds to assist LEAs in providing school librarians and media personnel with the knowledge and skills to use technology effectively, including effective integration of technology, to improve instruction and student achievement. (Title IV, Part A )

– Grants, as in NCLB, can be used to support expanded library service hours. (Title IV, Part B)

(adapted from ALA’s analysis of ESSA)

Funding drives everything, and new funding for programs and staff can come from many sources. Some funding will originate at the Federal level, some will originate in state legislatures, and some will come from local school boards.  All of those funding partners need to be effectively lobbied about the role that school librarians have in student achievement and the role that school library programs have in school outcomes. Through this lobbying, the partners need to be educated about the changes in ESSA about school libraries and librarians.  The challenge is that in many places, there are no school librarians left to do the lobbying.

As an library advocacy community, we need to talk about a plan to support restoring true, effective library programs and librarians to every school, anywhere.  EveryLibrary stands ready to provide training and direct support for lobbying and advocacy to the groups and organizations interested in getting local, state and federal funding flowing for librarians in K-12 again. We are ready to provide tactical support to telling the story of how important school librarians are in the educational life of our country starting in local zip codes.

We want to thank the staff at ALA Washington Office, AASL and YALSA, and member leaders across ALA who have worked on this for years. Their leadership has sometimes been behind the scenes, but it has been consistently focused on restoring what was lost in NCLB. We were proud to join in a multi-organizational final push to tell the House and Senate to vote Yes on ESSA. But the heavy lifting of long-term lobbying to get school librarians back into the ESEA was by ALA.  

When we did the #High5aLibrarianDay last month, we could only hope that we’d have #MoreLibrariansToHigh5 next year.  This puts us on the right path.

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