While the March 2005 report Fifty Years of Supporting Children's Learning: A History of Public School Libraries and Federal Legislation from 1953-2000 (available HERE) from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics shows gains to libraries, the American Library Association (ALA) sounds a cautionary note in a recent announcement. As millions of American children prepare to head back to school this fall, more will be attending schools without school libraries, the announcement states. The once-remarkable nationwide growth of public schools with library media centers (+64 percent), schools with a librarian (+39 percent) and pupils in schools with a librarian (+167 percent) has been undermined in the past five years by substantial cuts to school library funding, according to the ALA.
Schools facing state and local funding emergencies include the Rochester School District in New York, which must reduce spending by $13.6 million and is reducing the number of librarians, including the seven librarians that were supposed to be hired this year for elementary schools. In the North Sacramento School District in Sacramento, California, trustees eliminated the school library program as part of a $940,000 cut to programs and services in next year's budget.
The ALA announcement notes that recent studies by Indiana University show state spending on materials and staff for school libraries often falls below the national average, with Indiana high schools investing an average of $7.40 per student for new library books, compared with a national average of $15.44 in 2002. Funding for high school libraries was $14.15 per student in 2003, less than half the national average of $32.78. Of the Indiana school librarians surveyed for the study, 33 percent said they had their budgets cut in 2004, 19 percent said their budgets had been frozen or delayed, and about 14 percent said they had no book budget at all for 2004. And, while book budgets are one traditional measure of school library support, these figures do not include library spending on databases, periodicals, DVDs, electronic resources, and other vital educational materials.
Since 1965, more than 60 education and library studies have shown that school library media programs staffed by qualified library media specialists have a positive impact on student academic achievement. Statewide studies in 14 different states show that a strong library media program helps students learn more and score higher on standardized achievement tests than their peers in library-impoverished schools.
In response to the urgent need to support and maintain school library programs and certified school librarians across the nation, the ALA has convened a new task force on school libraries. (See ALA Annouces New Task Force on School Libraries.) The group is charged with providing an overall assessment of the current state of school library service in America; identifying the most critical issues and trends affecting school libraries and school library media specialists; evaluating options for responding to those issues; and making recommendations regarding practical strategies that decision-makers can undertake to support and strengthen school library services for children nationwide.
One key to the success of school libraries is dedicated funding, according to the ALA. The Improving Literacy Through School Libraries (LSL) program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education through the No Child Left Behind Act, is the first program specifically aimed at upgrading school libraries since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first passed 1965. Ninety-five percent of local education agencies that received funding from LSL reported increases in their reading scores.
Despite the program's success in raising student academic achievement, it has been chronically under funded. While authorized for $250 million in federal funding, less than $20 million was appropriated in each of the 2003, 2004, and 2005 fiscal years. In fiscal year 2004, only 73 grants were awarded out of 824 eligible applicants.
"The ALA is calling upon Congress, state leaders and school administrators to fully fund public school libraries and literacy programs," said ALA president Michael Gorman. "Good school libraries are essential to a good education."
For more information on school libraries and student achievement, visit http://www.ala.org/aaslTemplate.cfm?Section=studentachieve.
Source: American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/