PA Legislative Candidates Overwhelmingly Support School Libraries
The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, with the assistance of EveryLibrary, recently conducted a survey of candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to gauge their support for school library programs. As reported by Debra E. Kachel, Co-Chair of the PSLA Advocacy Committee Overwhelmingly, candidates expressed their support of school libraries and certified librarians, including funding and regulations for all schools to have school librarians for K-12 students. Almost 20% of all state-level candidates responded (N= 62) as of October 23, 2020. Both incumbents and challengers responded to the non-partisan questionnaire.
Survey questions focused on candidate attitudes and experiences of school library programs and school librarians along with questions about policy and funding issues that Harrisburg could undertake to address shortfalls in funding equity. Candidates across the state and on many sides of the political spectrum were generally positive about the role and impact of school libraries and the need for fund for these critical programs. For example, candidate Shaun Dougherty, District 35, Johnstown said "Your zip code should not determine if your school has a librarian, the state needs to fund this.” Janet Diaz, District 13, Lancaster wrote, “Librarians are essential to schools and provide students opportunities to enhance their learning. We must ensure that all students and teachers have access to school libraries.” And Tay Waltenbaugh, candidate for Senate District 39, Greensburg, which recently lost their school librarians to budget cuts, stated "Many children still don't have broadband access, so school libraries are essential!”
Not all candidates were positive toward school librarians, however. Rep. Mark Gillen (incumbent District 128, parts of Berks and Lancaster Counties) strongly disagreed that school librarians are needed (Q3) and that legislation is not needed to ensure certified school librarians (Q5). Only 3 candidates negatively responded to establishing a budget line item for school libraries: Tim Bonner (District 8, Grove City), Bob Brooks (District 54, Murrysville), and Tim Twardzik (District 123, Frackville). Brooks also responded negatively to Q 15; Twardzik also responded negatively to Q11.
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Since 2016-17, PSLA has documented an average loss of 8% of the state’s school librarians per year. In fact, last school year, 29 entire school districts had no school librarians impacting almost 60,000 students. The state’s largest school district, Philadelphia, now has
only six school librarians for almost 125,000 students in their district-operated schools. And we know this trend, worsened by the pandemic, is continuing. PSLA, along with the leadership of Rep. Mark Longietti, has been lobbying to pass legislation that would require a certified school librarian in every public school. The PSLA Candidate Questionnaire was launched for the first time this year to not only inform school librarians how candidates stand on school library issues but to educate prospective candidates about the status of school librarians in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) is an independent, incorporated professional 501(c)6 organization for school library professionals who serve in the public and private schools of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and library educators from universities within the Commonwealth that offer bachelors and/or master degrees in school librarianship. The mission of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association is to generate conversations and connections to transform teaching and learning.
Read the full survey results and selected verbatim responses to know where your candidate stands on the issue of funding for school library programs in Pennsylvania at https://paschoollibraryproject.org/ld.php?content_id=58243195. You can review the full survey questionnaire itself at https://paschoollibraryproject.org/ld.php?content_id=57894783.