Organizations Urge Action to Overturn Harmful Funding Cuts in Federal Budget Proposal

The White House budget proposal to eliminate federal library funding would adversely impact all children, particularly those in at-risk communities.
It’s time once again to fight to return library funding to the federal budget–to save public and school library programs and help continue the programs’ goal of equity for all children, according to advocates. The White House’s budget proposal for 2019 would eliminate the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and defund the Department of Education’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) grant program and adversely impact children, particularly those in at-risk communities. “Think of all libraries as a learning ecosystem,” says Steven Yates, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). “You can’t take federal funds out of the equation and not see immediate impact on the way students are learning.” While the process from proposal to a signed budget may seem long, Congress needs to hear from people immediately and often to have an impact, Yates says. And no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by the funding being returned to the 2018 budget after a similar proposal. “You have to make your voices known,” says Yates. “If that’s our proven path, we have to continue that.” Speaking out was part of the reason Congress returned the money, Yates believes, and nothing can be taken for granted right now. “In this political climate, I’m not seeing any guarantees,” says Yates. “It’s too important to leave to chance. We can’t afford to take the chance.” The IAL budget is $27 million with $15 million intended for school library programs first. “The Innovative Approach to Literacy program, a competitive grant program, is intended to let school librarians apply for with good ideas, high-impact, programmatic opportunities  that will help in the Title 1 environment, the most disadvantaged schools,” says EveryLibrary executive director of John Chrastka. “The equity it is intended to help establish between well-off and less well-off districts, poor places and rich places, will be disappearing,” he says. “What the president is proposing will eliminate the only competitive grant program dedicated to school library programs.” The loss of the IMLS would impact services for blind and visually impaired kids and those with learning disabilities and homework assistance programs, ending Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the only federal program exclusively for libraries and administered by the IMLS. The LSTA also provides internet access to students outside of school hours and partners with community organizations to provide services and programs, including computer instruction, homework centers, summer reading programs, access to e-books, bookmobile service, and outreach programs to the underserved. In some states, it also helps give schools access to information databases. It means students wouldn’t have the “breadth of access to reliable, vetted, quality sources,” says Yates. The proposal also cuts the 21st Century Learning Programs, which provide after school and wraparound services for millions of kids, and its $1.1 billion budget. “They’re targeting these vulnerable programs and moving funding around in order to work on charters and vouchers,” says Chrastka. To help advocates take action, EveryLibrary updated its action center and offers more resources and information on other issues on its page. The American Library Association’s advocacy and Fund Libraries pages on its website offer resources to help library advocates contact members of congress in various ways, including via Twitter. The pages also offer links to legislative bills to watch, information about how the loss of IMLS would impact your state, graphics to post on social media and even ways to make the #FundLibraries hashtag part of your Facebook or Twitter profile picture to push awareness. While phone calls are preferred, any way someone feels most comfortable contacting Congress is beneficial. These websites make it possible to just easily click through and send an email to a specific representative. This fight for dollars and equity comes amid the bigger national debate, as the entire philosophy of education in this country gets upturned under president Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “The Trump and DeVos approach is as significant of a change away from federal  attention and federal funding as the Johnson era Great Society reforms were to increase federal involvement and federal funding,” says Chrastka.  “It is a dramatic sea change.” Stopping the change may not be possible, but working within the state ESSA plan effectively will be imperative, according to Chrastka. To do that, the school librarian community must be organized and active, speaking to the public. That way, they can affect the way the money is spent. “To remind people that school librarianship is a core component of education and that the largest classroom in the school needs to be staffed should not be a fight between different philosophies of government,” he says. “It should be a natural part of the educational life of our communities.”  
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