Education

Missouri library vote causing concern among education leaders

Missouri is at risk of losing services for the public, after the Republican-led House voted to cut all funding for public libraries in a state budget.

Missouri library vote causing concern among education leaders
Scripps News
SMS

Many people in this country rely on public libraries. Education leaders like Amie Baca-Oehlert, the President of the Colorado Education Association, say they are a crucial part of the education system.

"Libraries — just like our schools — are the cornerstones of our communities; they are gathering places. They offer so many resources to our families, to our citizens and our communities," Baca-Oehlert said.

As Deborah Caldwell-Stone with the American Library Association points out, public libraries provide more than books.

"They provide broadband access. They provide support to job seekers and veterans ... They promote story time, early literacy, student success," Caldwell-Stone said.

However, she worries the state of Missouri is at risk of losing those services, after their Republican-led House voted to cut all funding for public libraries in their proposed state budget.

"Certain legislators in the state are proposing to take all of that away as a matter of politics not principal," Caldwell-Stone said.

This budget isn't all libraries have to rely on. 

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The Bozeman Library Foundation says city and county taxes pay for about two-thirds of basic library functions. That includes things like staff salaries, books, supplies and utilities. The foundation says state taxes and special revenues cover about one-third of those costs, and federal grants cover even less. The foundation also explains that funds from individual donors, business sponsors and foundations are what cover everything beyond basic services, like programming. In places like Missouri, most of their public libraries are in rural communities, which are more affected by funding cuts than urban libraries.

The threat of defunding libraries worries people like Baca-Oehlert.

"Certainly, this is something that we're keeping an eye on and that we would not want to see spread to other states," Baca-Oehlert said.

The proposal is not final yet, as it awaits the next phase — passing through the Missouri Senate. Baca-Oehlert hopes those in other states speak up to preserve funding elsewhere.

"We need to use our voices to say we should not let something like this happen," Baca-Oehlert said.

Scripps News reached out to Missouri Representative Cody Smith, who proposed the elimination of funding, but did not receive a response. Smith is one House Republican who has publicly expressed anger towards a lawsuit challenging a new state law that bans sexually explicit materials from school libraries. 

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The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, on behalf of the Missouri Library Association and Missouri Association of School Librarians. Many, including Missouri's Secretary of State, Jay Ashcroft, say this move to eliminate funding was in response to that.

"I didn't push for the legislature to drop the funding, but when I heard they might, how much could I fight against it, when the people who want the money are fighting the legislature," Ashcroft said.

At the same time this is happening in the legislature, Ashcroft is preparing for a new administrative rule that will take effect on May 30. The rule would, essentially, block state funding if a library allows minors to access books that are labeled pornographic or obscene.

"This rule doesn't cut anybody's funding. Funding gets cut if libraries decide to act in an inappropriate manner," Ashcroft said.

Under this new rule, that is what he says is the consequence to libraries who don't adopt policies on the age-appropriateness of literature. However, Ashcroft says funding libraries is important.

"I'm a big fan of libraries. Libraries in Missouri currently receive more funding than they ever have, and I've worked very hard to change that," Ashcroft said. "All I wanted libraries to have to do was to have policies that take these matters into account."