- Hope didn't do it.
- Logic and research didn't do it.
- Testimony from librarians, students and parents didn't do it.
- Over 50 school library supporters crowding the hearing room didn't do it.
Our state school library/technology association's bill that would have given all Minnesota students access to the services of a professional library media specialist throughout the school day didn't make it out of yesterday's Senate Education committee yesterday.
If this blog post sounds like sour grapes, it probably is. Even after 50+ years of rejection of one type or another, I still can't find a way to take losing very well. Sorry.
Here are some of the major reasons given by senators for not supporting our bill:
1. Local control. Legislators felt the decision whether to have a good school library program is best left to local school boards. Despite taking away control over little things like the length of the school year, testing, number of credits needed for graduation, transportation, special education, and a host of other big ticket items, one senator stated he did not want the legislature to act like a "super school board."
Counter: We still need to convince our legislators that good library services are an essential core program for every student in the state, not just in the wealthy districts. While good math skills are see as a necessity, I guess little things like information and technology literacy and life-long reading skills are not - yet. Do we need signs that can be hung on closed school libraries in this state saying, "Closed - but at least we have local control." I am sure we can make those third graders who can't find a good book or Internet guidance understand how important this principle is. (OK, sarcasm isn't becoming.)
2. Unfunded mandates. In the past, I have not been a fan of mandates. I've changed my mind. We can't have a system in which some aspects of education are mandated and others are not. My sense is that 95% of our education dollars are locked into requirements set down by the state with 5% left to be divided among the "extras" like technology, libraries, guidance counselors, elective courses, etc. If nothing was mandated, we could compete for dollars. When most of what schools can do with state dollars IS mandated, our programs need to be mandated as well. As one legislator put it, "as the waterhole dries up, the animals around it start looking at each other differently." And given today's expected budget forecast for Minnesota of about a billion dollars, the waterhole will continue to shrink.
Counter: If there are any state mandates, all important services need to be mandated. Or sufficient educational dollars need to given to all schools to provide basic service. Our waterhole can't continue to shrink.
3. "Protected class" of employee. One legislator felt this was a bill to protect library jobs and make librarians a "protected class" of employee. But by requiring three years of math for all Minnesota students, haven't we created a "protected class" ofmath teachers? I can see how our bill might look like job protectionism by school librarians.
Counter: I see this bill as "service protectionism" - assuring all kids have available to them access to programs and professionals who will teach them essential skills. We can't frame this as a problem of fewer librarians. We really need better data about school library programs as well. We could not answer the simple question, "How many schools don't have professional librarians in them." We can't complain when we are asked to submit state library program surveys.
I am sadder than I thought I would be. I knew this would be an uphill battle. I wasn't even sure we should have taken this on, given its odds of passage. But yesterday convinced me that is a necessary fight and we can't surrender. As the Blues Brothers would put it, our profession needs to be on "a mission from God."
Thanks to all who testified and all who showed up yesterday in St. Paul.
To paraphrase another famous movie line, "We'll be back."