Jeff Frost, CSLA Legislative Advocate
On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law a new education reauthorization bill that had been worked on for several weeks by Congressional representatives. The new law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), makes a number of important changes on how education policy will be handled and allows states, not the federal Department of Education, set standards for educational success. This act had not been updated since the NCLB was agreed to in the first term of George Bush’s presidency. Additionally, this bill makes strides toward including school libraries as an educational priority.
One of the biggest changes to the new Act is the inclusion of specific library references. School librarians and school libraries are now considered true educational partners. AASL President Leslie Preddy said, “For school-age students, ESSA represents an historic new chapter in federal support of education, one that will ensure effective school library programs are there to help them learn how to use new technology tools, develop critical thinking, and the reading and research skills essential to achievement in science, math and all other ‘STEM’ fields.”
The new ESSA Act authorizes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program that 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.” Those funds can go toward library resources and providing professional development for school librarians. States and districts can also use Title II funds for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.” And the bill encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.
The new ESSA statute includes several references to school libraries and teacher librarians. A summary of those changes is outlined below:
Title I – Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies – Under Title I of ESEA, local educational agencies (LEAs) must develop plans to implement federal education activities.
* The ESSA includes new provisions that authorize local plans to include a description of how the LEA will assist schools in developing effective school library programs to provide students an opportunity to develop digital literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
Title II, Part A – Supporting Effective Instruction – Under current law, Title II, Part A provides funds for States and school districts to increase academic achievement by improving teacher and principal quality (primarily through professional development).
* The Conference Agreement includes new provisions that authorize States to use funds to support the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.
* The Conference Agreement includes new provisions that authorize LEAs to use funds to support the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.
Title II, Part B, Subpart 2 – Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) – Includes a new literacy program to help improve student academic achievement in reading and writing by providing federal support to States to develop, revise, or update comprehensive literacy instruction plans.
* The ESSA requires local grants that focus on children in kindergarten through grade 5 to provide high-quality professional development opportunities for teachers, literacy coaches, literacy specialists, English as a second language specialists (as appropriate), principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, school librarians, paraprofessionals, and other program staff.
* The ESSA requires local grants that focus on children in grades 6 through 12 to provide training for principals, specialized instruction support personnel, school librarians, and other school district personnel to support, develop, administer, and evaluate high-quality comprehensive literacy instruction initiatives.
* The ESSA authorizes all local grants (that serve children in kindergarten through grade 5 or children in grades 6 through 12) to provide time for teachers (and other literacy staff, as appropriate, such as school librarians or specialized instructional support personnel) to meet to plan comprehensive literacy instruction.
Title II, Part B, Subpart 2, Section 2226 – Innovative Approaches to Literacy – Includes a new authorization of the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program (previously funded through appropriations legislation) that provides dedicated funding to promote literacy programs in low income communities.
* The ESSA authorizes funds to be used for developing and enhancing effective school library programs, which may include providing professional development for school librarians, books, and up-to-date materials to high need schools.
Title II, Part B, Subpart 2, Section 2232 – Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics – Includes a new American History and Civics Education program to improve the quality of American history education and teaching.
* The ESSA defines an eligible entity as an institution of higher education or nonprofit educational organization, museum, library, or research center with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of American history and civics.
Title IV, Part A – Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants – Authorizes a new Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to help States and school districts target federal resources on local priorities.
* The ESSA authorizes States to use funds to assist LEAs with identifying and addressing technology readiness needs, including Internet connectivity and access to school libraries.
* The ESSA authorizes States to use funds to assist LEAs in providing teachers, paraprofessionals, school librarians and media personnel, specialized instructional support personnel, and administrators with the knowledge and skills to use technology effectively, including effective integration of technology, to improve instruction and student achievement.
Title IV, Part B – 21st Century Community Learning Centers – This program supports community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children.
* The ESSA authorizes grants to be used to support expanded library service hours (consistent with current law).
Title VIII – General Provisions – Contains definitions that apply to all activities under ESEA.
* The ESSA updates the definition of “specialized instructional support personnel” to include “school librarians.”