The U.S. Senate today resumes consideration of major education reform legislation that got a boost Wednesday with unanimous approval of an amendment sponsored by U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to allow the use of federal funds to improve and modernize school libraries.
The amendment, sponsored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Cochran, was added to the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177), a bill reauthorizing and reforming federal K-12 education policy. The amendment was adopted 98 to 0. The Senate education reform bill also includes two provisions coauthored by Cochran to support rural education.
“Our amendment seeks to better equip school librarians to do their jobs by allowing schools throughout the country to use federal funds in the way they see fit to strengthen their libraries. My hope is that the use of these funds will improve education and literacy among children in Mississippi and throughout America,” said Cochran, a member of the Senate Rural Education Caucus. “I’m pleased to see such overwhelming bipartisan support for this amendment.”
Multiple education and library studies have produced clear evidence that school libraries staffed by qualified librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement, but results from a recent National Center for Education Statistics survey show that access to school libraries is lacking. Approximately 8,800 schools nationwide 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 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, which is based on stand-alone legislation they introduced in February, would build on the provisions in the underlying bill by giving states and school districts the option to use Title I funds to address the development of effective school library programs and to utilize Title II funds to support instruction provided through effective school library programs.
Elsewhere in the bill, Cochran worked with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to include two provisions to ensure that the needs of students in rural areas receive due consideration from the U.S. Department of Education. One would require the Department to increase the consideration and participation of rural schools in its policy-development process. A separate provision would add rural schools to the Secretary’s Report Card to ensure that data on student achievement in rural schools is available to guide policymakers. Over 50 percent of students within public elementary and secondary schools in Mississippi are served by rural schools.
“It is important that this legislation ensures that the voices of those who serve students in rural areas are heard. We should not overlook the often unique challenges facing the large number of students and educators in rural areas, and I am pleased that the underlying bill seeks to address some of these concerns,” Cochran said.
The underlying bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. It would reform and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by ending the federal test-based accountability system from No Child Left Behind and strengthening state and local control over education. Senate debate on the bill is expected to last at least a week.
The Every Child Achieves Act also mirrors policies in the Senate FY2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bill, including a provision affirming that the federal government cannot mandate or incentivize in any way the adoption of any specific standards or assessments, including Common Core. Cochran serves as a senior member on that subcommittee and as chairman of the Committee on Appropriations that approved the FY2016 Labor-HHS funding measure in June.