It’s no secret that public schools, despite getting baseline funding from the State of Washington, vary widely in the money they have to spend. In the ongoing struggle to provide equitable access for all students, school libraries play a critical, and often underfunded, part.
An article from the Seattle Times (May 7, 2016) made these points:
- Washington state school libraries are not guaranteed any money for books or materials.
- In 2016, for example, 75% of Seattle Public School library funding was provided by PTAs, book fairs, and grants.
- The rest came from Seattle’s district office, averaging $2.55 a year for each student (less than the cost of one magazine).
- The statewide average was from $1 – $10.
- The national average was $10.
- Seattle schools reported a range of $1.69 – $29.88 per student, per year.
But why such a difference? Wealthier schools have PTAs that raise money for their libraries. Other schools face difficult challenges, especially, of course, poverty: families working long hours for low pay, limited English and mobility, and the shocking reality of increasing numbers of homeless students.
Schools with inadequate funding, in fiscally challenged communities, may not have a PTA to pitch in and provide money for their libraries. They have to find the money for competing, substantial needs. These schools depend on grant money, or donations from partner school PTAs and book fairs. Underfunded school libraries with out-of-date books and materials are the rule, not the exception.
In 2016, teacher librarians requested equitable funding for all schools, with full-time librarians in every school. They asked the state to allocate $10 per student for library materials each year. Well, here it is, 2018. Did they get what they wanted?
Teacher Librarians get what they wish for. Almost.
Good news! After the passage of Senate Bill 6362, starting in fall 2018, each school district will be allocated $20 for each full-time student, per year, for school library materials.
With some school libraries spending $29.88 per student, while others scrimp by on $1.69, the chance of every library having $20 per student is a dream come true, right?
Not so fast. That amount isn’t mandated, so it’s up to each school district to decide whether or not they will comply.
Also, the 2018 Legislature didn’t actually make any new money available: since 2009 it’s been in the budget, under “other supplies.” But now the legislature has made it clear that this allocation is to be used specifically for library materials, and has provided reporting accountability.
What happens next?
- You can help! Speak to your local school principal and ask about library funding. Share your strong support for the school library and, especially, the state’s newly identified library allocation.
- Contact your local school board members to thank them for their service. Ask how the district will address this new legislative directive.
- Contact your state elected officials to thank them for the allocation. Explain that without the mandate to spend the money on library materials, you’re concerned that this money may not be spent as intended. Tell them you would appreciate stronger language that mandates the money identified in SB 6362 is spent on library materials.
- Spread the word to other interested parties and ask that they take action too.
Advocates in the school library community, like members of the Washington Library Association, are gearing up to ensure this opportunity isn’t lost in “other supplies.” They’re making lists of what they need to update obsolete print and electronic collections. They’re gathering data on the age of their collections and their sources of funding. They’ll be going to their school and district leaderships with clear and compelling written proposals.
School libraries are a precious resource and are critical to media literacy education. Our children deserve equitable support. Every district should have the means to build excellent library collections that reflect the diversity of their readers, offer a wide range of reading materials, and provide current, high-quality research tools.
Also, did you hug a teacher librarian today?
By Sue D. Cook Thank you to AME board members Shawn Sheller and Kathryn Egawa.