June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Libraries Included in Lawmakers’ Summer Learning Proposals


capitolsummer_2Expanding access to summer learning opportunities—especially for students in low-income communities—is a high priority for state lawmakers this legislative season. While libraries aren’t specifically named in most bills, an emphasis on literacy and organizations working in partnership likely means that libraries will play an increasing role in preventing learning loss while students are off for the summer.

“What we’re starting to see is more intentional programming in libraries to support community goals around literacy,” says Rachel Gwaltney, the director of policy and partnerships at the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), who is currently tracking 185 bills at the state level related to summer learning. Twenty-two of the bills are focused on literacy, especially for students in kindergarten through third grade, and another 15 are focused on building networks and partnerships between organizations providing summer learning opportunities.

In Massachusetts, for example, Boston After School & Beyond, an advocacy group, is working with state Rep. Alice H. Peisch, House chair of the Joint Committee on Education, to support a bill that would create a summer learning grant program. If passed, the bill would authorize funds to “support the development and expansion of high quality, comprehensive summer learning opportunities for students in districts with high concentrations of low income students.”

While not named in the proposal, libraries are expected to have a part in increasing students’ access to learning opportunities during their summer break, says Danielle Kim, the director of policy and communications for Boston After School & Beyond.

“The intent of this bill is to enable cities [and] districts to further engage existing local institutions like museums, libraries, parks, college campuses, and workplaces to support youth during the summer months,” Kim says. “We’re really looking to expand opportunities for students to learn outside of the traditional school setting and traditional school calendar. Neighborhood places like libraries certainly have a role to play in making these comprehensive summer learning opportunities possible.”

Public libraries will also be able to participate in a new summer learning grant program that has been enacted in Maryland. The Public School Opportunities Enhancement Act will provide financial support to districts and nonprofit organizations to create or expand summer learning and enrichment programs for students. To be eligible, the programs must be in a county where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Other proposals this year have focused on creating councils or advisory groups to address issues related to summer learning. An school-vacation learning advisory board, for example, is being proposed in Indiana. The board, if created, would report on existing programs outside of school and make recommendations regarding policies, procedures, funding levels, and criteria for programs for students to participate in.

A similar bill in Oregon that died in committee would have created a Policy Advisory Council on Summer Learning and would have included a representative from the state library, as well as representatives from the governor’s office, the legislature, the state PTA, the Oregon Department of Education, the state school board association, and other education organizations.

Katie Anderson, a youth services consultant with the Oregon State Library, said she can understand why legislators might think there is a need for such a council, but she added that public libraries, in Oregon as well as across the country have long been actively involved in providing students with summer reading and learning programs.

“In some small, rural communities nationwide the summer reading program at the public library is the only summer learning opportunity available to local youth,” Anderson says, adding that in her state other organizations, such as the Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Afterschool Network, and the Oregon College Savings Plan are beginning to tap into the existing public library summer reading program infrastructure to provide youth with more resources and learning opportunities in the summer.”

She also noted that local public libraries are working with parks and recreation departments to “leverage resources and coordinate a more strategic, community-wide approach to summer learning.”

Gwaltney is also following some bills that have been introduced in Congress, including some related to STEM, another area where libraries have been expanding their services for both students and adults. Another proposal, the LEARN Act (Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation), would authorize funding for K-12 literacy programs, with a focus at the middle and high school levels on reading and writing across content areas. Introduced last year, the bill is currently in the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

Emily Samose, the director of Education and Learning Initiatives at the Urban Libraries Council said she’s glad that libraries are increasingly receiving attention for offering a wide range of summer learning experiences for students.

“We know that public libraries are maximizing summer learning opportunities for children and youth in their communities,” she says, “and it would be great to see their contributions acknowledged in state and federal legislation supporting the expansion of summer learning.”




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Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.