School District of Philadelphia Board of Education Action Meeting Testimony, May 26,2022

by Eric Hitchner

Good evening board.  I’m Eric Hitchner,  a high school lit teacher from Building 21. 

It took 5 years, thanks Covid, but this fall we opened our own DIY library. 

It has no librarian or budget, and it is staffed by teachers on preps.

Former member McColgan, said

“[W]e hear a lot about the lack of libraries, but are principals even asking for librarians?”

Dr. Hite responded, “[T]here’s NOT a wholesale request for librarians.” 

This felt disheartening and dishonest. So I am here to challenge that framing.

You could have said: “of course we’d like libraries, but we haven’t prioritized that in our budget for decades.  And Pa. ranks 45th in spending gap disparities. Sorry.” 

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Understand, that in 1991 we had 176 certified librarians. According to Dr. Hite’s own testimony from the Harrisburg fair funding trial there are now only 6

We have the worst school librarian ratio in the country. You didn’t mention the shift in how librarians were budgeted decades ago, all the subsequent budget cuts and hard choices principals have made. It’s not an accident we went from 176 to 6.

It’s like claiming a family struggling with bills must not even want the lights on since they paid other bills instead. Make no mistake. They need the lights too. 

Libraries are not a luxury. There should be consensus and action here.

Instead this reinforces the opportunity gap our students face.

Or perhaps as a data driven district, we could actually ask principals?

We face many issues. That doesn’t excuse inaction or misdirection.

A budget is a moral document.  It speaks to principles and priorities.  

You may claim students have “libraries” in English classrooms.  Do you really think a bookshelf in the back of a room replaces a space and budget with trained and certified experts?

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Seeing the impact our library has had on our students has been amazing.  

I invite any member, to come and see our humble little space.   

-See the impact it’s already having, and the vision of where we’re heading.  

-But also understand how insufficient it is.  

-Even though it’s more than almost any other Philly student is offered

-All Philly students deserve so much more. 

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Libraries are not just books on shelves. They are safe communal spaces. They invest in students. Improve literacy rates and love of literature. 

What you invest, would pay for itself time and time again. 

All this money is spent on measuring progress from outside companies but we don’t invest in the magic that gets us there.  

We starve our schools and strip them down. 

Imagine: if some buildings extend to 8 pm use, wouldn’t it be amazing to have library access at those sites?

I know there are hard choices but this is also about your priorities, words, and actions, 

matching your values. Fund libraries for all our students! Thank you.