WASHINGTON, DC – School libraries make a big difference in giving kids the skills and inspiration to become proficient and enthusiastic readers. To ensure that every child in America has access to a fully resourced school library, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) introduced the Right to Read Act to address disparities in access to school library resources and ensure they are equipped to empower and engage students from every background. U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Data show that school libraries make a significant difference in giving kids the skills and inspiration needed to become proficient and enthusiastic readers. Access to a school library results in 73% higher literacy rates for all students and an even more powerful impact for low-income, minority and disabled students.
The Right to Read Act will increase the federal investment in literacy by reauthorizing Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants at $500 million, and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program at $100 million, targeting critical literacy resources in high-need communities.
“The Right to Read Act will address disparities in access to school library resources for under-resourced communities and invest critical federal funding to address student literacy in Arizona and across the country,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Under the House Republican majority, GOP politicians have sought to politicize our children’s schools and enable the voices of an extreme few dictate what children can or cannot read. The Right to Read Act is a direct response to those efforts and reaffirms that first amendment rights apply to school libraries, given the alarming trend of book banning, and protects school librarians and other educators in carrying out their duty to protect students’ right to read.”
“Literacy is the foundation of learning. The Right to Read Act makes sure that every student across America has access to the opportunities literacy provides through high-quality, appropriately staffed school libraries and diverse and inclusive books in schools and at home,” said Senator Reed. “By improving and expanding school libraries and recruiting and retaining professional school librarians, we can make big literacy gains nationwide and help more kids develop the skills needed to become proficient, enthusiastic readers.”
The U.S. Department of Education reports that 2.5 million students are enrolled in districts where there are no school libraries, meaning that 1 out of 10 schools in America are without a library and 30 percent do not have full-time school librarians. School libraries are most effective when they offer resources that resonate, engage, and empower students; however, 37 states have enacted bans on books that disproportionately limit access to titles with LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color. In the past three academic years, legislators in 45 states proposed 283 laws that either sought to ban books; censor curriculum; restrict students’ civil rights; and/or punish teachers for accurately recounting our nation’s history.
The cosponsors of the Right to Read Act include: Representatives Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Joe Courtney (CT-02), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Alma Adams (NC-12), Frederica Wilson (FL-17), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) Grace Meng (NY-06) Betty McCollum (MN-04), and Jim McGovern (MA-02).
The legislation is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Library Association and its division, the American Association of School Librarians.
“Today’s school libraries are dynamic centers of learning that provide access to a wide range of materials and technology. The Right to Read Act, like ALA, insists that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a robust collection in their school library. National Library Week and School Library Month is a fitting time to spotlight how school librarians bridge the gap between access and opportunity for all learners. Now is the time to scale that success – not take it for granted. The Right to Read Act stands up against disinvestment and censorship in school libraries and recognizes that every school library should be staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Strong school libraries staffed by school librarians lead to stronger teachers and greater academic achievement. ALA applauds Senator Jack Reed and Representative Raúl Grijalva for introducing the Right to Read Act,” said American Library Association (ALA) President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada.
“AASL believes that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a school library staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Administrators, teachers, parents and students rely on school librarians for access to professionally curated resources that meet the needs of the entire learning community. Just as importantly, certified school librarians create a welcoming environment for all students, develop a school-wide culture of reading, teach information literacy and digital literacy skills, and lead meaningful technology integration in their schools. AASL fully supports the Right to Read Act of 2023 and thanks Senator Reed, Representative Grijalva and their staff for recognizing that an effective school library is essential for student success” said American Association of School Librarians (AASL) President Kathy Lester.
“First Amendment rights do not stop at the schoolhouse gate, nor the library door. In a time when books are under attack across the United States, PEN America welcomes the Right to Read Act which will ensure that libraries are accessible to all students as a place where they can exercise their freedom to read, learn, and think,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs.
Rep. Grijalva voted against H.R. 5, the Republican bill to ban books and politicize schools. More information can be found here.