Pittsburgh, Pa. − October 18, 2023 − Senator Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, released this statement today, following a Senate Education Committee vote on the book ban bill, Senate Bill 7, which passed along party lines:
“We have had eight Basic Education Funding Commission hearings since the beginning of September around the Commonwealth. It has been a grueling travel schedule and I have been an active participant in each and every hearing.
I am often asked how the Basic Education Funding Commission hearings are going. I came into the hearings with optimism because that’s how I try to show up. The previous Commission was barred from considering what it costs to educate a student when they created the school funding formula.
At least this time we have a Commonwealth Court decision pushing the Commission in the right direction and we are hearing from experts about how much it costs to fully and fairly fund our public schools. All of which you think would help.
But then hearings like yesterday happen and today we ran a book ban bill and I once again realize why I have struggled to be optimistic. I know that my pessimism for the outcome of the Basic Education Funding Commission and the future of public education in Pennsylvania is rooted in reality.
Last week I hosted the Commission at Pittsburgh Public Schools. At Westinghouse High School, we heard from a librarian who began her testimony with a story about how not long after she became the school librarian, a parent came to her and thanked her for “saving her daughter’s life.” She told us that parent told her that her daughter would have “never survived high school without her.” Since then, she’s had two other mothers tell her that she helped their children and used that “shocking” phrase – that she “saved their child’s life.”
She concluded her story by reflecting on what she’s done for those students and what she does for every other student – which is offer a safe space. And she posed the question – “What if that student didn’t have a school librarian?”
In fact, that is already the reality for thousands of Pennsylvania students. We have dwindling libraries and librarians. In the 2021-2022 school year, the PA School Library Association found that 52 school districts, which is 10% of school districts across the commonwealth, did not have a school librarian assigned to a library.
That means that a student in a well-resourced school in my district has access to a brand new library and a full-time librarian who could save their life. In contrast, the School District of Philadelphia currently has less than ONE full-time certified librarian for its 217 schools and 114,000 students. Let me repeat that: one full-time certified school librarian for 114,000 students. SB 7 will only make this problem worse.
But this committee doesn’t want to fix those problems. The Senate doesn’t even want to talk about those problems.
And the reason is because the goal is not to fully and equitably fund a system of public education. It is to destroy public education. Starve schools of resources. Overwork educators. Deny kids opportunities afforded to richer and whiter kids. Ignore students and educators who share countless stories about the emotional anguish they are attempting to survive. Tell outrageous lies about what our kids are exposed to in schools to sow fear and distrust in our schools and our educators. All to divert public money to tax credits for wealthy companies and individuals so that private institutions that can discriminate against any child.
SB 7 is a book ban in violation of the 1st Amendment but it is also a part of the plan to destroy public education in direct violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
So I am a firm No today, I was a No last time we ran this bill, and I will be a No for every step this Committee takes towards dismantling public education.”