Thursday, May 26, 2011

DOE Zeroes Out Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program

From School Library Journal Online

By Debra Lau Whelan May 19, 2011

It's official. Media centers around the country won't be getting one cent from the Improving Literacy Though School Libraries program in FY2011.

For the first time since it was created in 2001, the federal grant program is being zeroed out, following a decision on Monday by the Department of Education (DOE).

"This decision shows that school libraries have been abandoned by President Obama and the Department of Education," says Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's (ALA) Washington Office.

Some say the writing was already on the wall. In April, Congress failed to appropriate federal funding for the program and gave authority to the DOE to make a final decision.

And for two consecutive years, President Obama has proposed wiping out a line item that created the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, suggesting that it be consolidated with several other literacy programs—all of which would then vie for the same pool of money, says Jeff Kratz, assistant director of ALA's Office of Government Relations.

Improving Literacy Through School Libraries is a federal program exclusively designed to help school libraries boost academic achievement by providing students with access to up-to-date school library materials, expanding Internet connections, extending library hours, and providing professional development to media specialists. As a result of the DOE's decision, school districts with 20 percent or more of their students who come from families living below the poverty line will no longer have dedicated federal funds to specifically pay for school library materials.

"The [DOE] has withdrawn funding for numerous successful literacy programs in order to launch new initiatives to bolster science, technology, engineering, and math education," Sheketoff says. "Apparently, what the Department of Education fails to realize is that the literacy and research skills [that] students develop through an effective school library program are the very building blocks of STEM education. Withdrawing support from this crucial area of education is an astounding misstep by an administration that purports to be a champion of education reform."

The Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant program—which was authorized at $250 million in 2001—has never been appropriated at that level. In 2002 and 2003, Congress allocated about $12.5 million for the program. In 2004, that number went up to $19.8 million, and it has since then seen a slight decline, with President Obama proposing to keep 2009 and 2010 levels the same at $19.1 million.

Technically, the program still exists—it just doesn't have any money. That's why ALA is asking its members to contact lawmakers to restore funding at least to 2010 levels, says Kratz. ALA is also asking for a dedicated funding stream for school libraries when Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, previously called the No Child Left Behind Act.

Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, says school library programs provide students with the skills they need to meet the demands of a competitive economy and 21st-century workplace.

"Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests even when differences in socioeconomic factors are taken into consideration," Everhart says.

"School libraries are there for every child. They are the great equalizers of society and by making this cut, it's taking away the opportunity for all children to excel in every area of education, especially science and math. The school library has traditionally been the place where low-income students gain access to the resources and learning experiences that make STEM subjects relevant and rich."

This article originally appeared in the newsletter Extra Helping.

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