Sunday, April 6, 2008

In Praise of Visionaries

Today starts the 2008
Wisconsin Educational Media & Technology Association annual conference and in honor of WEMTA's 60th anniversary, I thought I'd dust off a draft of a blog I have been working on for a while, finish it up and get my blogging efforts into gear.  Here goes - an ode to some people with a vision for the future.

With school libraries facing ever increasing cutbacks in staffing and funding I thought it would be nice to mention some visionary people who have put into law a secure funding source for school libraries.

The visionaries I am writing about today had nothing to do the technology, the web, web 2.0, Student 2.0 or anything else we see today, unless you happen to venture in to a school library in Wisconsin.

FEEs, FINEs, and FOREFITUREs or Why Wisconsin likes Speeders!

Wisconsin is unique in many ways - and I am not talking about
Brett Favre (retired or not), the Packers, cheese, bratwurst or beer. The visionaries I am talking about were the founders of this great state (motto: FORWARD) who developed a plan to provide funds for school libraries and inserted it into the state's constitution in 1848.

Common School Fund Library Aid (CSF) is an annual entitlement program to all Wisconsin public school districts that distributes the net earnings from the Common School Fund, one of the state trust funds set up by the Wisconsin Constitution.

As directed by the constitution, the beneficiaries of the CSF are the public school libraries of the state. Each year in April, the
Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) informs the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) of the total interest that has accumulated in the Common School Income Fund.

The principal of the CSF grows by about $25 million each year through revenues from:

  • Civil and criminal fees
  • Fines and forfeitures
  • Wisconsin's Unclaimed Property Program
  • Timber sales on Trust Lands

(NOTE: Thus in Wisconsin, speeding really does pay - it pays right into the fund that assists school libraries!)

The BCPL, whose current Executive Director is Tia Nelson, daughter of
Earth Day founder and former US Senator Gaylord Nelson, is in charge of the managing the board whose mission is to "Manage Trust Lands and Trust Funds for the Benefit of Public Education in Wisconsin." Through the use of timber sales, investments and interest, the BCPL funds the CSF. I should note that the BCPL has the power to loan money to school districts, cities, counties and other governmental agencies usually with interest rates less than commercial lenders - so some school districts will borrow for building programs at a lesser interest rate and the interest they repay on the loan goes into the CSF! A win-win if I ever saw it!

This principal is invested in loans to local governments and school districts and in state and local bonds. The remaining funds are deposited in the State Investment Fund. The annual earnings of the CSF are distributed on a per pupil basis each spring with more than $375 million distributed over the last 25 years.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) calculates each school district's allocation, basing the amount on the number of children ages 4 through 20 living in the district. The allocation is sent to school districts by May 1. Districts must spend the total Library Aid allocation for appropriate library materials by June 30 of that same year.

In the school year 2006-07 the CSF provided $29.2 million worth of library materials to public schools in Wisconsin - not toooooooo shabby! Of course, there are
rules and restrictions on what can be purchased with the CSF but for the most part, the CSF is a driving force in keeping our Wisconsin school libraries well stocked.

What is disappointing is that with the continuation of "
Revenue Limits" placed on school districts in Wisconsin, more and more districts are using the CSF as the ONLY source for library books and materials.

All this started with the visionaries in 1848 thinking that a great way to provide the needed books and materials for school libraries should not fall just on the back of the school district residents. I really believe the genesis for this idea came from the fact that in 1848, book cost was high and that stocking a school library needed a boost or head start. 

Who would have thought this idea would pump over $29 million a year in school libraries 150 years later.

CSF is distributed to every school district - no application is needed. A truly wonderful program!

Any other state have such a program? Anyone envious of this program? Your thoughts?


IMC Guy said...

The CSF amount my K-6 school of about 400 has been around $18,000 a year. To me, this is a pretty nice chunk of change to purchase new materials. I think of the forward thinkers every time I want to order new materials for my library!

Carolyn Foote said...

Wow, what an amazing bequest they left for the future.

In Texas, libraries have to fight for funding, and in fact, the school library division of the Texas Education Agency was dissolved about five years ago. Funding is almost entirely up to the local district.

So it's heartening to hear of a state with such a wonderful bequest!