April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

President Obama’s Call to Halt Teacher Layoffs Leaves School Librarians Out

President Obama tapes the weekly address in the State Dining Room of the White House. Photo: White House Photo: Chuck Kennedy.

President Obama’s weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday focused on the critical role that education plays in our country’s future—and the need for Congress to pass his proposed jobs bill to help states prevent teacher layoffs and rehire them.  But he made no mention of school librarians.

Obama said several thousand educators would not be returning to school in September. And due to budget cuts at the state and local level, some 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the official end of the recession in 2009. As a result, the student-to-teacher ratio has increased by 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010 and that number is expected to grow.

“Think about what that means for our country,” Obama said. “At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America; these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year.”

While Obama made no mention of school librarians in his address, a White House report on this subject, “Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom,” references several newspaper articles that illustrate the effect of education cuts on libraries as well.

In Sacramento, CA, for example, the Sacramento Bee reported that this upcoming year, area students returning to school should expect another year of large class sizes, fewer teachers, and reduced resources, as a result of four consecutive years of state budget cuts. In addition to the nearly 650 teachers in Sacramento County who received final termination notices in May, “district’s students can expect larger class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, fewer arts and music programs, and fewer assistant principals and librarians.”

In Cleveland, OH, the school board voted in April to trim about a sixth of its teaching staff in the upcoming school year because of budget troubles and a falling number of students, says Cleveland Plain Dealer. The district plans to lay off more than 500 teachers at the end of this school year, as well as shorten the school day through eighth grade by 50 minutes. It will also “cut the number of music, art, library, and gym classes for those students as part of the shuffling of staff to handle the layoffs.”

It’s no surprise Obama left out libraries in his address. In May 2011, the Department of Education eliminated funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, the only federal program that was solely devoted to school libraries. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI),with strong grassroots support from educators, parents, and students, managed to replace some of that money late last year by securing $28.6 million in federal funds for school libraries and literacy programs for FY 2012 in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. President Obama signed it into law on December 23, 2011.

“We would like the President, along with all administration officials and members of Congress, to include school librarians when they are speaking about educational professionals at any type of school,” says Jeff Kratz, the American Library Association’s assistant director of the Office of Government Relations.

Federal cuts to school libraries trickle down to school districts nationwide, says the American Library Association. As a result, California has been one of the hardest hit, where the number of certified teacher-librarians has dropped to 895 this school year. The Los Angeles Unified School District also laid off dozens of its library staff, interviewing them for a chance to be reassigned to a classroom.

The Investing in Our Future report offers the President another chance to push a year-old jobs plan he proposed last September, which provides money for states to keep teachers, police officers, and firefighters employed—and comes during an election year.

Cutting teachers is “the opposite of what we should be doing as a country,” Obama said in his address. “States should be making education a priority in their budgets, even in tough fiscal times. And Congress should be willing to help out—because this affects all of us.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel responded to Obama’s address, saying, “we applaud him for that [because] Gov. Romney has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in the impact of keeping class sizes small, despite evidence to the contrary and despite what parents across this country know.”

Van Roekel went on to say that class size is a “critical piece of the school improvement puzzle and we cannot ignore the positive effect that personalized learning has for kids.”

“This report reminds us that we have a choice to make in November between two visions for America. President Obama’s, in which all students deserve a great education; and Gov. Romney’s, in which kids get the best education their parents can afford,” Van Roekel said.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten urged Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.  “These cuts come at a time when we should be increasing our commitment to children and to the public schools that educate 90 percent of them,” he said. “With poverty spiking and student enrollment increasing, it’s more important than ever that every student in our charge is prepared for life, college and career.”


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About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.

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  1. While I wish the President had specifically mentioned school librarians, I have no reason to believe that by saying “teachers,” he did not include art teachers, phys ed teachers, school librarians, music teachers, and the like. In my state (NY), as a school librarian, I’m a certified K-12 teacher. Therefore, Mr. Obama’s comments include me, too. The title of this article makes it sound as if the President specifically said school librarians wouldn’t be included in any plan to reduce teacher layoffs.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I agree – the title of this article sounds biased against the President, and yet, upon reading, I see no blatant omission of librarians in the President’s comments. If anything, he seems to see the big picture and speaks inclusively. It is the author of the article who seems to have parsed the meaning. Especially considering the author quotes Romney as being against smaller classrooms. The article reads as pro-Obama, while the headline reads as anti-Obama. Not cool with an impending election where negative headlines such as this might sway opinions.

  3. However, both Elizabeth & A.Gordon fail to recognize the elimination of the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant funding by President Obama. The author is simply stating the facts, you my friends are twisting them.

  4. Geri Ellner Krim says:

    While it is true in New York State, you are a certified teacher, it is also true in New York City that every secondary school has not had a licenced librarian as far back as four years ago. I wonder how many secondary schools will not open with a licensed librarian this September. And how many librarians are doing things other than having a flexible schedule? You have agree that this article brought out good points as did the comment made after it. Yes, there were cuts and yes, he should have mentioned librarians so that there would not be any doubt in an administrator’s mind that librarians are important to a school.

  5. Barbara Mitchell says:

    The help you will get for our schools and libraries from President Obama in the next four years will equal exactly what we got in the last four years – nothing. His jobs bill is just more government handouts. Get real. Only Governor Romney can get the economy back on track, at which time, school budgets will resolve themselves. All you’ve got from Obama is lie after lie after lie. For sure there will be waay fewer teachers and librarians if Obama is re-elected.

  6. lisa berman says:

    Amen. Teacher layoffs and larger class sizes benefit no one….now OR in the future.