We have the opportunity to do something or to do nothing. This is a pivotal moment for school libraries. When you look back in time, will you remember this as another day where you just clicked through this message from Lynne Bradley and did nothing more?
Please join me in contacting your Senators. We school librarians need your help to get the message out that OUR COUNTRY’S STUDENTS PERFORM BETTER IN SCHOOLS WITH SOLID SCHOOL LIBRARY PROGRAMS so SUPPORT SCHOOL LIBRARIES IN ESEA!
Starting today, (Wednesday, October 19) the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) begins a process to mark-up a bill to reauthorize ESEA. It is our understanding that by the end of this week, the HELP committee will complete its work on the bill, including many amendments. Then the bill goes to the Senate floor for a final Senate vote. We have no way of knowing when the bill will go to the Senate floor.
This effort has been the height of “hurry up and wait.” For 2 years, ALA and its members have been talking to their legislators about including school libraries in federal legislation. Senators Reed and Cochran introduced the SKILLS Act in June 2011. There are various procedural steps expected as the final version of the ESEA bill actually goes to the committee for a mark-up; things will be happening quickly this week. The SKILLS Act has morphed into an amendment by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Patty Murray to the larger ESEA bill as the Senate HELP Committee begins its work. This is not an unusual occurrence as bills evolve and consolidate or morph through the legislative process. At this point, our advocacy alerts have started referring to a school library “amendment” rather than the SKILLS Act. We think the overall ESEA bill will pass, although we do not know if the school library provision will be supported. But another step in sausage making…
Senator Jack Reed continues to work very hard for school libraries. He wrote the SKILLS Act, recruited a Republican co-sponsor, Thad Cochran, and twisted arms to get the original co-sponsors (Senators Kerry, Murray, Rockefeller and Whitehouse). He got appropriations language for school libraries in this year’s Senate Appropriations bill and has worked with Senator Whitehouse to create this amendment to ESEA. Senator Murray has agreed to co-sponsor the Senator Whitehouse’s school library amendment.
Because of the history and difficulties in getting ESEA reauthorized in previous Congresses, the agreement between the House and the Senate is for the Senate to pass ESEA first. Then the bill would go to the House. The House has passed 4 smaller education bills, none of which address school libraries, and the Senate does not support that approach. On top of this, the current House leadership has indicated that it will not work on ESEA until 2013 – the next Congress, after the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
We need for school library language to stay in ESEA for the next Congress. With the assumption that the 113th Congress will start with the Senate bill from this 112th Congress, it is extremely important that the school library provision gets into ESEA now.
First, we must succeed in the short term: get a school library program into the Senate’s ESEA now. By doing so, we position school libraries to be included when an ESEA bill is finally reauthorized, even if that is in the next Congress.
Getting ESEA reauthorized, including changing the name from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has taken years already. ESEA itself is controversial and the current political environment leading into the 2012 presidential election year complicates all legislation – this bill as a whole as well as our proposal for school libraries.
Well, like sausage, legislation is a mixture, often roughly ground up and stirred together. By nature, the legislative process is a series of compromises. In previous ALA initiatives to get federal school library legislation there were some provisions that are not now in the SKILLS Act. Unfortunately, we have not had great support from the education unions and from other K-12 organizations. We are competing with everything from literacy coaches to classroom teachers – even though we know that school librarians are both of these. In the present political environment and the challenging budget climate, we have to cling to survival for our school libraries and, more importantly, the students they serve. We have to survive in ESEA now to live another day to get funding or even more advanced programs in the future.
Please look at this blog twice a day. Put in a call to your U.S. Senators from your states at 202-224-3121. Those of you who have a senator on the Senate HELP Committee must be particularly active and alert. Please respond to every action alert – even if you called or wrote your senators before about school libraries. Get other colleagues and neighbors to also call in. It only takes a few moments to call the senate switchboard, ask for your Senators’ offices, and leave the message: SUPPORT SCHOOL LIBRARIES IN ESEA! OUR COUNTRY’S STUDENTS PERFORM BETTER IN SCHOOLS WITH SOLID SCHOOL LIBRARY PROGRAMS.
Director, Office of Government Relations
Please chime in here when you have placed that call to 202-224-3121 and left the message: OUR COUNTRY’S STUDENTS PERFORM BETTER IN SCHOOLS WITH SOLID SCHOOL LIBRARY PROGRAMS so SUPPORT SCHOOL LIBRARIES IN ESEA!