This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (aka “HELP Committee”) met to mark-up (debate, amend and vote on) the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly known as No Child Left Behind.
The American Library Association (ALA) sought amendments to require that every student have access to an “effective school library program,” defined in statute to require that: every school library be staffed by a certified librarian; equipped with up-to-date materials and technology; and enriched by a curriculum jointly developed by a grantee school’s librarians and classroom teachers and codifying the currently funded Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program under ESEA.
While we did not get all we had hoped for, the Committee did adopt Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (with co-sponsors: Sens. Bob Casey, Susan Collins, and Elizabeth Warren) amendment to amend Title V of ESEA establishing “effective school library programs” as an eligible use of funds under a program for literacy and arts education. Passed by unanimous consent as part of Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “manager’s amendment” package, this provision would allow grants to be awarded to low-income communities for “developing and enhancing effective school library programs, which may include providing professional development for school librarians, books, and up-to-date materials to low-income schools.”
The bill that the Committee marked up and passed will next be taken up by the full Senate, although we don’t yet know when. Our champion, Senator Jack Reed, intends to propose a stronger amendment on the Senate floor than the one adopted by the HELP Committee to broadly provide dedicated funding for school libraries and librarians in ESEA.
We would like to thank all of the library advocates who reached out to their senators and representatives to demand that Congress support effective school library programs. As we move forward in the advocacy process, there is more work to do. Stay tuned as we await further word!