February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Step Up on ESEA: Act now to get school libraries built into this federal legislation | Editorial

If you are not up to speed on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), please tune into the process now and sharpen your advocacy tools. A decade of potential school library support hangs in the balance as lawmakers move toward a much-needed update of this federal legislation. Our elected officials need to know this matters and why, now, so they will focus on it, raise its profile, and hopefully inform its improvement.

Emily Sheketoff

Emily Sheketoff

The process of reauthorization is complex, and the current focus is on getting language from the SKILLS (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) Act (S. 312) into a version in the works by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. To get the full rundown of where the process stands, take a look at SLJ news editor Carolyn Sun’s recent coverage (“ESEA: ALA and Advocacy Community Urging School Library Supporters to Act Now”). Also, follow the postings at ALA’s District Dispatch, where Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA), and her team share updates on many policy issues of vital importance to libraries.

The ESEA, previously known as No Child Left Behind but originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, has seen many changes. It’s important to recall that school libraries were understood to be critical in the original act, as Sheketoff highlighted in a January 27 letter to the HELP Committee providing feedback from ALA on an earlier draft of ESEA. The original act, she wrote “recognized the correlation between effective school library programs and student success by authorizing $100 million for the ‘School Library Resources, Textbooks, and Other Instructional

Kieth Curry Lance

Keith Curry Lance

Materials’ program under Title II, but as time passed, federal funding was eliminated, state and local support has diminished, and too many students across the nation are finding themselves in schools without the books, technology, and instruction that can only be obtained through effective school library programs.”

But it’s not about what used to be, it’s about what school libraries bring to the table now—consistent support for student success, which is well documented by the research conducted by Keith Curry Lance. In short, where there are school libraries and librarians, kids do better. We have to keep striving to get that word out in compelling ways—and elected officials find public feedback to be very compelling.

Senators Lamar Alexander

Senator Lamar Alexander

Sheketoff, Sun notes in her coverage, says this call-to-action goes for everyone, not just school librarians, and I couldn’t agree more. On March 19, a coalition of education businesses added leverage, sending a joint letter [pdf] to U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA). This is most welcome, and hints at the scale of activity we need around this issue. All librarians and educators and our various stakeholders should engage in bringing attention to this problem.

Now is not the time to let others handle this, nor can we succumb to what Deb Kachel, longtime advocate and cochair of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, calls “advocacy fatigue.” Act now. Tell your U.S. senators and representatives how critical school libraries are in delivering quality education, helping schools and kids keep up with new technologies, and fueling engagement with learning as a lifelong necessity and pleasure. Then talk to parents and colleagues in your schools, public libraries, and communities—educate them on why and how to join you in calling for the integration of school libraries into ESEA.

“We have never been closer in getting school library language in a reauthorization of ESEA,” Kachel said via listserv. Let’s make it a reality.

A decade or more of learning depends on it.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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