FY13 Hearing on DCPS Budget
Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization Testimony
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the FY13 DC Public Schools budget. My name is Peter MacPherson, and I am presenting testimony on behalf of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization or CHPSPO. CHPSPO is testifying today because of serious concerns we have in changes made to how the school library media specialists are funded.
In the FY13 budget, schools with an enrollment of 299 or fewer will not receive funding for the school librarian position. There are more than 50 DC public schools of this size. Schools with an enrollment of 300 or more will receive a budget allocation for a full-time librarian. However, for the first time, the librarian position has been moved from required staffing to “flexible funding” which means filling the school librarian position is at the discretion of the principal.
There is a wealth of research showing that schools that rely on their libraries to support student learning have seen higher assessment scores, and ultimately higher graduation rates. In October 2011, the New York Comprehensive Center released an information brief on the impact of school libraries on student achievement. Relying on a series of school library impact studies, they found school libraries have a positive impact on student outcomes and can play a major role in closing the achievement gap. Specifically, these studies have shown that schools that successfully use their school libraries to support student learning have 1) helped improve teacher effectiveness, 2) shown a greater likelihood that early learners will develop into accomplished readers, 3) seen increases in graduation rates and higher performance levels, and 4) shown higher assessment scores. Given this research, we find the lack of priority for school librarians in the FY13 budget to be troubling and shortsighted. In 2011, 56% of 4th graders and 54% of 8th graders scored below basic in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
If DCPS is trying to raise assessment scores, we would expect our educational leaders to be placing greater emphasis on school libraries, not less.
We all know information today is increasingly available through technology, and digital literacy is increasingly important. When anyone can post anything on the internet, the need for our students to understand how best to use the dizzying amount of information available to them is more and more important. Because it is most often our school librarians who teach students how best to find, use and interpret information, this is not the time to be eliminating the school librarian who is the one professional in the building trained to teach these skills in today’s, technology-infused classrooms. This is not the time to be putting school librarians in a “flexible funding” category.
For many, many years, DCPS libraries have had a very hard time. CHPSPO recognized this back in 2005, and started an initiative called the School Libraries Project. The School Libraries Project was a $2.4 million public private partnership between DCPS and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, the Washington Architectural Foundation, and numerous other foundations and private individuals. Today, through the School Libraries Project, the libraries at eight elementary and middle schools on Capitol Hill are beautiful spaces filled with books and technology. This partnership was based on the understanding that the libraries would be staffed with trained library media specialists, and we are troubled that the FY13 budget seems to be backtracking on this understanding.
In addition to the FY13 budget decisions that negatively impact library staffing, there has been a long-standing lack of support from DCPS for purchasing books for the libraries. For years, our PTAs, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation and our ANCs have often been the only source of funding for books for our school libraries. After the beautiful $75 million modernization at Eastern High School, the library got no new books. Similarly, at Eliot-Hine Middle School, in 2008 there were extensive interior renovations that included the library, but no new books were provided for the library.
We understand that the difficult choices are being made in the FY13 DCPS budget. School libraries are easy targets during budget-cutting times. However, when DCPS cuts school libraries, it does an injustice to our city’s public school students who need to advance their literacy if they are to succeed in today’s world. Because the research is clear that school libraries play an important role in student achievement, DCPS should identify ways to support librarian positions and school libraries.
We urge the DC Council and the DCPS leadership to reverse the actions taken in the FY13 budget that negatively affect the school libraries. We ask that DCPS move the school librarian back into the required staffing section of the budget, and identify ways to support librarians at schools with enrollments under 299.