Testimony Submitted to the Basic Education Funding Commission, October 27, 2023

On October 27, 2023, PARSL submitted testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission, a bipartisan commission "charged with reviewing the distribution of state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and providing a report of its findings to the General Assembly." The testimony presents the inequities on school library services and certified school librarians not only in Philadelphia, but across the state. 

Dear Members of the BEFC:

We represent a grassroots volunteer group of over 800 concerned citizens called the Philadelphia Alliance to Restore School Librarians (PARSL). Our mission is to ensure that all students in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) have equal opportunities to learn through well-stocked school libraries with the reading guidance and information instruction provided by certified school librarians. Our detailed mission and vision can be found at our website https://www.restorephillylibrarians.org/. Our FaceBook page is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/librarians4phillyschools/

SDP is the largest district in Pennsylvania with 217 district-operated schools and over 113,000 students who are mostly economically disadvantaged and predominantly students of color. Yet few SDP schools have a functioning library with a trained school librarian. There is the equivalent of only one school librarian for the entire district.

As referenced in our recent white paper, Ensuring Equity and Access to School Librarians and School Library Services in the School District of Philadelphia, multiple research studies have found that school librarians and libraries increase literacy, student achievement, graduation rates, and college and career readiness by teaching research skills and digital citizenship skills. Without books to read and a school librarian to guide and motivate them, it is no wonder that two out of three children in Philadelphia cannot read on grade level by 4th grade. A school librarian teaches critical literacy and information skills to every child in a school building throughout their time in that building, nurturing their academic and personal growth. It is a fiscally sound policy to invest in librarians who maintain a centralized collection of shareable library resources that meet specific student needs, offer diverse perspectives, and serve a wide range of reading and interest levels.

But Philadelphia is not alone in this lack of library programs. According to federal NCES data, Pennsylvania has 54 school districts that have not a single school librarian and most likely no school library of quality. This lack of school library services is evident today in 23 of the 29 Intermediate Units—a statewide disservice to our K-12 students. It impacts students in small rural and large urban districts alike.

School libraries with certified school librarians, once considered an essential component of a child’s education, are becoming a privilege for only the wealthy schools, dependent on zip code. Today, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to right this wrong--this social and educational inequity. Please increase school funding directed to school library services and certified staff that will benefit ALL students and schools, particularly among our most impoverished districts. Every child deserves to learn in a school library, not just the privileged.

PARSL Core Committee:

Jenny Lowman, PARSL Coordinator, Assistant Director of Institutional Support, Eastern University

Corinne Brady, Program Coordinator, Library Volunteers, John B. Kelly School, SDP

Deb Grill, Retired School Librarian, SDP; Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), Library Advocacy

Deb Kachel, Retired School Librarian, Online Professor, Antioch University Seattle, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, Advocacy Committee

Dr. Barb Stripling, Retired School Librarian, Administrator, Educator, Professor Emerita, Syracuse University 2013-2014, President, American Library Association