This past week, I attended two of three large capacity conference calls this week hosted by the U.S. Department of Education so that stakeholders might ask clarifying questions regarding the President’s FY2011 Budget for Education.
When Emily Sheketoff, ALA Washington Office Executive Director, asked a question about school libraries during the first call on educational technology on Wednesday, she was told that questions about school libraries would be addressed during the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) call on Friday, not This seemed a clear message about perception. We are not associated with the edtech people.
On Friday, during the ESEA call, the moderator noted the large number of email questions (mine among them, I hope) regarding school library funding. The spokesperson clarified the fact that Improving Literacy for School Libraries will no longer be available.
The FY 2011 budget absorbs this grant program, along with a variety of others, into Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education.
The FY2011 budget describes the competitive distribution process for the newly lumped together monies:
. . . the plan includes a restructuring of ESEA program authorities to fundamentally change how the Department operates by increasing the role of competition in awarding Federal education funds, focusing more on programs achieving specific desired outcomes, allowing for expanded State and local flexibility to achieve those outcomes, and reducing the number of programs administered by the Department of Education. For example, the reauthorization proposal would consolidate 38 existing authorities into 11 new programs that give communities more choices in carrying out activities that focus on local needs and that are achieving results. The new programs would emphasize competition, or an increased performance focus in formula programs, while ensuring that geographic location will not dictate results. These expanded funding streams will eliminate inefficiencies at the Federal, State and local levels, allowing grantees to focus on improving outcomes for students and allowing the Department to focus on providing strong support and directing funding to proven or promising practices.
After that clarification, Emily Sheketoff’s follow-up call again raised concerns about the place of school libraries in future education plans. The spokesperson told Emily that her concerns had already been addressed.
They were not.
A number of worthy programs are earmarked in the current federal budget. Libraries are not among them.
School libraries were also excluded from the edtech conversation.
And it is clear to me, despite what I suspect were the many clarifying questions sent to AskArne regarding libraries and information literacy, that no connection is yet made between the President’s very promising Proclamation of National Information Literacy Awareness Month back in October and school library information programs. (As Buffy noted earlier this month.)
Where before we had a dedicated funding source from the federal government, allottments will now be part of a fund allotted to SEAs in a competitive way yet to be determined, allowing grantees to focus on improving outcomes for students.
The folks in DC do not yet connect libraries with information, communication, and technology literacies.
This is our fault. We have not yet made the case.
We have to make the case now. All of our programs need to be essential. All our programs need to walk the walk.
All our programs need to deliver high quality, 21st century, learner-centered service and instruction embracing the clear mission of ensuring that our students and staff are effective users [and producers*] of ideas and information.
Funding decisions will be made at the state and local level.
We have to make sure that our SEAs understand how school library information programs improve outcomes for students.
And we had better get ready because we are now clearly in for a competitive fight for funding.
And very unfortunately, we are pitted against many other worthy educators who also stand for literacy, who also improve outcomes for students.
And so my advice is that we have to get to work right away or we may find ourselves out of a job.
That would NOT improve outcomes for students.
We must make ourselves visible, relevant, integral to the educational missions of our schools.
We had better serve our client base–students, and teachers, and administrators, and parents–so that they understand how critical we are to the educational mission, or we will be out of a job.
We had better start making ourselves known in a positive way to principals, district administrators, superintendents, headmasters, and local legislators, or we will be out of a job.
I know we are working hard. But right now there can be no excuses for not delivering the mission.
* (Sorry, but in 2010, I cannot live with a mission statement that does not explicitly include the word producer when it comes to ideas and information.)