Thursday, August 14, 2008

Money for School Libraries

Q: How many people does it take to convince the Washington State Senate to request $12-million for school libraries?
A: Three moms who refused to give up.

In March 2008, the Senate voted 49-to-0 for the $12-million, but it was whittled to $4-million in emergency money to last only one year. Here’s what you can do: take action.

The moms, of course, told me they didn’t turn the light bulb alone. They created a website Fund Our Future to connect supporters, media, legislators and students, registering more than six-thousand signatures in favor of funding a teacher librarian in every public school in Washington State.

It all started when Spokane School District cut back teacher/librarians to solve funding problems. They couldn’t put one over on 7-year-old Isabel. She came home from school and told her mom, “It’s not a library anymore.”

Her mom Lisa Layera Brunkan investigated. “They literally turned out the lights, unplugged the computers and locked the door. The library was dark 2 ½ days a week,” she says. When the librarian was there, she had no time to help Isabel find suitable books.

Lisa joined two other concerned moms and began to speak out. “What were our chances?” says Lisa. “They told us, When pigs fly… We couldn’t wait until then. Our kids would be grown.”

They discovered they had to frame their message right for people to take action. “We know school libraries matter. We know test scores go up in schools with libraries, but saying that wasn’t enough,” says Susan McBurney. “We needed buzz words." What worked? Our kids deserve a 21th century education.

“Compared to some other states, Washington is in the dark ages,” Lisa says.

When they talked about preparing students for a global economy, about providing a relevant education that will keep them competitive, everybody started to listen, politicians, business people and voters alike.

Another talking point: Equity. A student in rural Steven’s county with no computer at home cannot compete with students at a Lake Washington school who take a camera on a field trip, then come back and create a podcast.

Next blog I’ll tell you how these moms set a fire now spreading to other states.

~~Mary Cronk Farrell

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