U.S. Senate Begins Major Education Debate with Unanimous Passage of Reed School Libraries Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate today kicked off the body’s most significant education debate in more than a decade, and the Senators started by overwhelmingly approving a bipartisan amendment authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed.  By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed a Reed amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act that would encourage states and school districts to integrate school library programs into their plans for improving student academic achievement.

“Effective school library programs are essential supports for educational success,” said Reed, who authored the bipartisan amendment with Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).  “Knowing how to find and use information are essential skills for college, careers, and life in general.  A good school library, staffed by a trained school librarian, is where students develop and hone these skills.  In too many communities, libraries are neglected or considered an afterthought amidst the many other worthy education priorities competing for funding.  But we know that school library programs can have a positive impact on student achievement, and we must invest in them.”

Earlier this year, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, worked with Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on a bipartisan compromise to fix No Child Left Behind, the country’s current K-12 education law passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.  In April, the HELP Committee passed the resulting bill, called the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), with unanimous support from 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The Every Child Achieves Act includes an authorization for competitive grants to help high-need schools develop and enhance effective school library programs.  The Reed-Cochran amendment would build on the provisions in the underlying bill by:

  • Giving states and school districts the option to address the development of effective school library programs to help students gain digital literacy skills and graduate from high school ready for college and careers as part of their Title I plans; and
  • Allowing states and school districts to use their Title II funds to support instruction provided through effective school library programs.

Results from a recent National Center for Education Statistics survey show that there are still gaps in access to school libraries.  Approximately 8,800 schools did not report having a library media center, and only about two-thirds of the traditional public schools that did have libraries reported having a full-time, certified librarian.  One in five traditional public schools reported having no paid, state-certified library staff at all.

“The overwhelming bipartisan support for this school libraries amendment is an encouraging start to what will be a significant debate about the future of education in this country,” added Reed.  “Our challenge and our responsibility is to create and support learning environments that enable young people to hone their talents, discover their skills, and pursue their passions.  I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to produce an education bill that creates opportunities for all and prepares our young people for the jobs and challenges of tomorrow.”

Throughout his career, Reed has supported education and libraries, statewide and nationally.  He sponsored virtually every major piece of library legislation when he was a Rhode Island member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1990-1996) and as a U.S. Senator for the past 18 years.  Earlier this year, Reed and Cochran teamed up again to introduce the bipartisan Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries (SKILLS) Act.  The legislation seeks to expand federal investment in school libraries so they can continue to offer students the tools they need to develop the critical thinking, digital, and research skills necessary for success in the twenty-first century.  The existing library provisions in the ECAA and today’s successful amendment stem from the Reed-Cochran SKILLS Act legislation.

Reed and Cochran also worked together to author the Workforce Investments through Local Libraries Act (WILL) Act, parts of which were included in the recently-enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and will better integrate public libraries into state and local workforce investment strategies by recognizing public libraries as allowable “One-Stop” partners and authorizing new demonstration and pilot projects to establish employment resources in public libraries.

As the debate on ECAA unfolds in Congress, Reed plans to introduce additional amendments to improve the pending legislation, including an amendment that builds on the Reed-authored Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence (CORE) Act, which would require states to report on key measures of school quality beyond student achievement on statewide assessments, and require accountability for action on disparities in access to critical educational resources.