Grassroots Group Grows Mini-SKILLs Bill in Washington State

Posted Monday, January 28, 2008 - 11:39

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.

The 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.”