There's More Money! Now What?

The unexpected $700 million boost to the Title IV A grant budget offers school librarians more opportunities for funding.
It was a surprise and welcome “gift.” In the 2018 spending bill recently signed by the president, Congress not only funded the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), as well as the Innovative Approaches to Literacy and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs, but it allocated an extra $700 million for Title IV A Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grants. That addition to the original $400 million budget from 2017 takes SSAE funding to $1.1 billion. In his statement about the budget, American Library Association president Jim Neal said the extra money “opens doors to new funding for school libraries.” The door is open, but now what? Librarians must step in and take advantage of the opportunity, says Eileen Kern, chair of American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Vision for Implementing ESSA Task Force. “I was thrilled we got what we got,” says Kern. “This jump was fantastic. Now, of course, it’s getting everything in place to get the money where it needs to be. That’s going to be the fight. Now that the money is there, we have to be vocal at the state level and at the district level.” First, educators must understand what the grants fund. Title IV A money can be used for programs that support three areas: well-rounded educational opportunities, safe and healthy students, and effective use of technology. While Neal has optimism for school libraries, there will be many other educators looking to get some of that money as well. “I’m going to be honest, we’re not going to get the whole pie,” says Kern. “We are one small chunk. If you look at what’s covered in well-rounded education—you’re talking all the arts, foreign languages, civics, social studies.” To get any of the money, librarians must be proactive and show how the program they want to fund fits into the particular category and will positively impact students. “You have to get the word out and engage your stakeholders so when the decisions are made, you’re at the table and you’re at least having the opportunity to have part of the pie,” says Kern. Librarians should first check their state’s ESSA plans for Title IV use. Sixteen states specifically mention school libraries as possible recipients of the money. But in those states that do not, there is still plenty of opportunity to show how the school library connects with the key language in the law and meets any of those three specified categories. For example, safe schools includes digital citizenship, cyber safety, and cyber bullying. Well-rounded education includes much of what happens in maker spaces, as well as accelerated learning resources. Effective use of technology includes digital literacy, digital learning, and parts of the Future Ready Librarians initiative, according to Kern. The ESSA resources page on the AASL website is full of resources, including talking points for librarians to make a proposal for the grant money from their district (which gets funding from the state, which gets an allotment from the federal government—AASL even offers a flowchart to follow the funds). Unfortunately, there are not “cookie cutter” instructions, says Kern. Every state’s ESSA language is different, and every library does something unique for its specific school community. Getting the money will take some effort. Once it's in hand, it’ll take even more. “Once the money is assigned to you, you’ve got to do the job and you’ve got to do the job extremely well,” says Kern. To continue receiving funding in the future, librarians must then document the success of the program the grants funded, explain what could be done with more money and, most importantly, directly show the impact on the students. “Bottom line is, we do everything [we can] for the students,” Kern says.
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