Monday, March 5, 2018

Librarians Saved

In a 12-10 vote, the House Education Committee killed Senate Bill 261, the librarian bill. This bill would add flexibility to the staffing standards for school librarians in middle and high schools with more than 1,000 students.

The VEA has partnered with the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) to build opposition to the bill. Today, the bill came before the full House Education committee. As expected, the school boards and superintendents spoke in favor of the bill. VEA President, Jim Livingston, and the past president of the VAASL, Audrey Church, spoke eloquently in opposition to the bill. We had worked the members of the committee, so we thought we had the numbers, but until you see the final vote, you never know for sure. Here is the vote. The motion was to report (pass) the bill. A "nay" vote was to kill the bill.

YEAS--Landes, Bell, Richard P., Cole, Pogge, Robinson, Yancey, Davis, Leftwich, LaRock, McGuire--10.
NAYS--Helsel, Collins, Tyler, Bulova, Keam, Bagby, Bourne, Boysko, Hurst, VanValkenburg, Turpin, Rodman--12.

We thank Delegates Helsel and Collins for breaking with the other Republicans to vote down the bill. This was a good fight, and legislators heard you all. Well done.

Here are President Livingston's statement to the House Education Committee:

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I am Jim Livingston, President of the Virginia Education Association. 
VEA opposes Senate Bill 261.

Librarians play a vital role in our middle and high schools. They do everything from serving as literacy coaches, to serving as student research coordinators, to supporting teachers in lesson development. No one will tell you that librarians aren’t vital to student success. We all agree on that, yet this bill and its proponents, will say that this bill will simply create “flexibility” for school divisions to hire other staff INSTEAD of librarians.

We believe that the staffing standards identified by the Board of Education in the Standards of Quality (SOQs) are important for consistency across all divisions and to maintain our high-quality system of public education. These standards help level the field for all the public-school students in the Commonwealth regardless of zip code, or the locality’s ability to pay.

School librarians play invaluable roles in our schools, and their skill sets are unique. Every middle and high school in Virginia deserves the benefit of having a fully staffed school library. When flexibility is offered to school divisions on staffing ratios identified in the SOQs, it begins (or magnifies) inequities in our divisions.

Those school divisions who financially can still pay for two school librarians will, because they see them as a vital resource to school literacy and higher standards. Those same school divisions will still find a way to hire resource teachers if they feel they need them to support other content areas. School divisions that can’t fill this gap, won’t, and those schools will be at a disadvantage.

We see this in other areas of the SOQ when schools are given flexibility on staffing levels. Currently school divisions have flexibility on a whole list of positions including technology resource teachers, elementary resource teachers, Prevention, intervention, and remediation teachers, English as a second language teachers, and gifted and talented teachers. This flexibility had lead to inequities in these resources to our students.

In their revisions of the SOQs in 2016, the Board of Education recommended reversing the staffing flexibility established during the depths of the recession. In their adopted revisions to the SOQs, they said,

“Because the SOQ was established to ensure a minimum level of quality among school divisions in the commonwealth, these flexibility provisions should be eliminated to ensure that these positions are provided.”

The VEA supports the staffing ratios and we are fearful that, like the other areas where school divisions have been granted flexibility, Virginia’s inequities will continue to grow.

The VEA asks that you vote NO on this bill.