Libraries strained under Texas Legislative budget misfire

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The Texas legislature’s irresponsible approach to school funding has had unintended consequences around the state, including impacting children’s access to literacy services, libraries, nurses, and counselors. Rural and small districts are disproportionally impacted, yet form the core of Republican voters. For example, at a recent library leadership meeting in Texas, I joined a group of 20 library leaders from around the state, all from districts with 10,000 students or under. The stories and challenges their students face are daunting, made worse by the Texas Legislature’s lack of responsible funding for education.

Two librarians manage all of their district’s 22 school libraries. In fact, many of the librarians at the meeting managed numerous libraries mostly staffed with aides with no required training. This means services like research instruction, college preparation, reading promotion, copyright instruction, literacy support, and more, may not be available to those students(whose urban counterpoints have access to these). This attrition in staff was directly related to budget cuts by the Texas Legislature in 2008 and has been exacerbated by lack of funding in subsequent legislative sessions. These cuts to library staffing are not all, of course—teachers, nurses, and counselors have also been eliminated. It’s like the state legislature is eating their own young instead of creating the best possible future for them. What “parent” does that? Provides less for their children than they themselves had? What state wants their children to be less well educated? What state legislature can look businesses in the eye and say we want your future employees, the economic engine of the state, to be less employable? It’s the height of irresponsibility for the future of our state. And it’s an embarrassment.

The librarians, especially those in rural areas, which have been the hardest hit, worry about their students. Said one — it’s already hard enough for them to enter college, coming from a rural area, but then they lack the advantages of knowing how to do university level research which disadvantages them even more if and when they even get to college. The librarians were troubled that their students would be disadvantaged in the workplace and college environment from the get go.

Their sincere concern for their students I see echoed across the pleas of superintendents across Texas, including a recent op-Ed by Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis, Texas superintendent who has seen his state funding drop from 68% of his budget in 2008 to 15% of his budget in 2017. And on top of that, of course, insurance rates are increasing for both current and retired teachers, so many teachers face a pay cut this year, rather than a raise. And these are the people who educate the very future of our state.

Yet Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott is choosing to spend the state’s money on a needless session to push an unnecessary “bathroom “ bill that impacts a handful of residents in our state(and causes mental harm to those students it does impact), whipping up hysteria over a “non-issue.” He foists an idea for a raise for every teacher, without allowing districts the ability to fund these raises, an unfunded mandate intended to lure votes.

Recently, the Texas Legislature did manage to pass a bill requiring school districts to notify parents if their school lacked librarians, counselors, or nurses. But Governor Abbott chose to veto that bill, stating that ‘schools should focus on education.’ As though libraries aren’t a part of educating our students for the internet era where info literacy is a critical skill to navigate the workplace? As though counselors aren’t necessary to help emotional adolescents successfully navigate high school as well as the college application process? As though nurses to help students with chronic illnesses successfully stay in school wasn’t a vital part of those students’ education? If you were a parent of a child with diabetes or epilepsy, wouldn’t you want to know your school lacked a nurse? If you wanted your child to go to college, wouldn’t you worry if your school had no counselor?

Who can change this mindset? Well, voters can. Parents can. Teachers and librarians and counselors and nurses and superintendents can. We aren’t fighting for our jobs, as we are often accused. We are fighting for our students, our children, your children, and the children that no one might be fighting for. We are fighting for the health of our communities in the future.We believe every life matters and that it does take a village to raise a child to be successful, healthy, and an economic contributor to our state.

So, we (parents, educators, businesses) HAVE to speak up. We have to demand funding from our legislators. And if they don’t listen, we have to vote them out. We have to send a message to the Texas legislature that Texas children matter.

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