Grassroots Group Rally for SKILLs Act

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Republished with permission from American Libraries, January 28, 2008

Characterizing school library media specialists as “an endangered species,” Washington State Sen. Tracey J. Eide (D-Federal Way) introduced a bill January 22 that codifies through a per-pupil formula how many credentialed school library media specialists should be employed by each district and offers some $55 million to fund the initiative. Its aim of guaranteeing the presence in school libraries of certificated staff echoes the language of the federal SKILLs (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) Act, introduced in June 2007 as an unfunded amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act and scheduled for Senate committee review in February.

“We expect our students to reach higher standards; at the same time we are taking away the tools to help them achieve their goals,” Eide declared in a prepared statement. SB 6380, also allots $12 per student in state funding for library materials—a first in a state that has relied exclusively on local levies for school libraries.

rally poster for grassroots Washington state SKILLS Act groupThe bill is a victory for a grassroots movement launched last spring by three Spokane women whose determination to strengthen school libraries statewide began by combating their school board’s decision to close part of a $10.8-million deficit by halving the hours of the 10 full-time K–8 teacher-librarians still employed by Washington’s second-largest district.

Losing that battle has hardened the resolve of Lisa Layera Brunkan, Susan McBurney, and Denette Hill to not only reverse the cuts but to prevent them from happening again. They have since partnered with the Washington Library Media Association, which became a charter member of the trio’s newly formed Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology (WCSLit). Coincidentally, an online petition on the website supporting school libraries gained its 4,000th signature as WCSLit cofounder Brunkan spoke to lawmakers about the bill January 24, Brunkan told American Libraries.

“My little girl summed it up perfectly when I asked her how Library [time] was back in October,” Brunkan testified. “She said, ‘Mom, it’s not Library anymore, it’s check-in/check-out.’” Noting that her daughter’s school library is closed three days a week this academic year, Brunkan told AL that Spokane’s staff reduction “relegates kids to a supermarket system.”

Brunkan, McBurney, and Hill hope to see the bill become law by the end of the legislative session on March 13. However, the effort may be an uphill one; Brunkan described her surprise at being asked by one state senator why WCSLit was seeking state funding for a traditionally local issue. “The buck has got to stop somewhere,” she told AL, explaining that the Spokane school board president had advised her to “take it upstream to Olympia.”

For more information, you can visit the web site of this grassoots group at http://www.fundourfuturewashington.org.

Check out the media buzz on the Spokane grassroots effort

Spokesman Review 'Plea for school librarians' (pdf file)
The Olympian 'Bill may protect school libraries'
The Seattle Times 'The category of fun slowly being pulled from library shelves'
School Library Journal 'Washington Moms Fight for School Libraries'
The LA Times 'In parents' book, librarian cuts go too far' (pdf file)
The New York Times 'Why We Read' (pdf file)
Seattle P-I 'Small school libraries aim to make reading fun and easy' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times on our online petition drive.
The Spokesman Review on the launch of our petition (pdf file)
The Spokesman Review 'Moms Can Write Own Next Chapter' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times 'Key to literacy, librarians now highly endangered'
Spokesman Review 'Librarians critical resource' (pdf file)
School Library Journal 'Washington State Prepares for School Library Summit'
The Boston Globe - a reader responds to Stuart Glascock's LAT article: 'Librarians essential to good schools'
Spokesman Review 'Verner backs school libraries' (pdf file)
The Seattle Times 'The readers' due'
The Seattle Times 'Minneapolis ousts Seattle as most literate city'
Spokesman Review 'Only You Can Prevent School Library Losses' (pdf file)
SusanOhanian.org Outrage of the Day
Spokesman Review: Letter to the editor (pdf file)
School Library Journal 'Spokane's Elementary Schools Face New Wave of Librarian Cutbacks' (pdf file)

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