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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > May/June 2016

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 30 No. 3 — May/June 2016
After ESSA: How to Help School Libraries
by Sari Feldman
President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.
President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.
ALA president Sari Feldman (far right) with fourth-grade students and their school librarian.
ALA president Sari Feldman (far right) with fourth-grade students and their school librarian.

In a significant victory for U.S. libraries, President Obama signed a major reauthorization bill in December 2015. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA;
) updates the K–12 education policy that provides education funding to states and specifies that school libraries are a vital part of learning. This was the culmination of tremendous advocacy by librarians throughout the nation, and I’m proud to say that the American Library Association (ALA) played a pivotal role in this achievement.

ESSA puts school libraries and school librarians front and center as critical partners in the legislation. It also reauthorizes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program, which allows the education secretary to “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.” This puts kids from less-advantaged backgrounds in a position to benefit from all the tools as well as reading and research services (including digital literacy) that effective school library programs provide.

How to Support ESSA Moving Forward

Since school libraries are explicitly included in the language of ESSA (, we have turned our attention to how to maximize their opportunities. There are five specific provisions of ESSA that can bring funding to K–12 libraries, but it won’t happen automatically. I’d like to highlight how library supporters can help their schools get these monies.

1. Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies (Title I, Part A): States and school districts must develop their plans with “timely and meaningful consultation with” teachers, principals, and other stakeholders, including “specialized instructional support personnel,” which is defined under ESSA as specifically including school librarians. In addition, ESSA has new provisions that authorize—but do not require—school districts to plan how they will assist schools in developing effective school library programs to provide students with an opportunity to develop digital literacy skills and improve academic achievement.

How to Help: Because the local application provision related to effective school library programming is allowable (but not federally required), it is critical that you make school district personnel aware of their ability to produce and implement effective school library programming. Librarians should contact and work with their superintendents’ offices in developing local plans to ensure that school districts consider the importance of creating and maintaining effective school library programs and that they understand how those help develop digital literacy skills and improve academic achievement. You should also contact and work with state and school district officials regarding the ability of school librarians to participate in both the state and school district planning and application process.

2. Supporting Effective Instruction (Title II, Part A): This provides funds for states and school districts to increase academic achievement through professional development. ESSA includes new provisions that authorize both of those entities to use grant and subgrant funds for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.” It’s important to note that under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title II, Part A funds were primarily used for professional development for teachers, which made it difficult for other educators, such as school librarians, to participate. ESSA rectifies this by specifically authorizing funds to be used to support effective school library programs.

How to Help: Tell school personnel who create and implement professional development activities that they can use funds for librarians too.

3. Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation—LEARN (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2): ESSA includes a new literacy program that provides federal support for states to develop, revise, or update comprehensive literacy instruction plans. States award competitive subgrants to school districts for activities that focus on children in K–12; ESSA specifically authorizes school librarians to participate in these required grant activities. In addition, ESSA allows all local subgrants to be used to provide time for teachers and school librarians to meet, to plan, and to collaborate on comprehensive literacy instruction.

How to Help: Since this is a new competitive program under ESSA, you should work with individuals who are responsible for literacy instruction and development at the state, school district, and school level. Encourage and assist these people in applying for grants or subgrants. (Note that subgrants awarded for local uses of funds must include professional development for school personnel that specifically entails school librarians.)

4. Innovative Approaches to Literacy—IAL (Title II, Part B, Subpart 2, Section 2226): ESSA includes a new authorization of the IAL program that provides dedicated funding to promote literacy programs in low-income communities. It specifically authorizes funds for creating and enhancing effective school library programs, which includes providing professional development for school librarians, more books, and up-to-date materials to high-need schools.

How to Help: Since IAL is a competitive grant program that has been funded in the past through appropriations, but is newly authorized under ESSA, you should focus your advocacy efforts at the federal level to ensure that enough funds are appropriated to continue and possibly expand the IAL program.

5. Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants—Block Grant (Title IV, Part A): ESSA authorizes a new program to provide student support and academic enrichment activities (commonly referred to as the “Block Grant” under ESSA) to help states and school districts target federal resources toward locally designed priorities. Funds are allocated to states and then school districts based on their share of Title I, Part A funding (which is based on poverty).

ESSA authorizes states to use funds to help districts provide programs and activities that increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology, including adequate access to school libraries. It also authorizes states to use funds to help districts provide school librarians and other school personnel with the knowledge and skills to use technology effectively to improve instruction and student achievement.

How to Help: Contact state educational agency officials to make them aware of their ability to use funds to support personalized learning experiences, including by providing professional development for school librarians and offering better access to school libraries for students. Since school districts are required to consult with stakeholders, it is critical to work with technology leaders at the school and district levels to ensure that school librarians can participate in the planning process.

You can see a detailed report that lays out these ESSA provisions at

Sari Feldman is president of ALA ( and executive director of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library. For up-to-date information on ESSA, check out ALA’s policy blog, District Dispatch, or visit

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