State fund provides data, books for school libraries
A fund as old as Wisconsin continues to invest in the future. Every year, the state provides dollars to public school libraries through the Common School Fund. This spring, the fund distributed $36.2 million statewide. In Douglas County, the Superior School District received $169,267, Maple School District received $46,710 and Solon Springs School District was slated for $12,207.
"The Common School Fund is an amazing asset for Wisconsin," said Jodie Wright, Superior High School teacher librarian. "While school and public libraries all over the nation struggle to keep collections current, Wisconsin schools are able to maintain vibrant responsive collections that meet the needs of our kids simply because these funds have been set aside specifically to support school libraries."
Items purchased can include newspapers, magazines, books, software, databases, STEM kits, audiobooks and computers. The only caveat is that the resources must be accessible to all students.
"I believe for most Wisconsin school libraries the Common School Fund is the only money for purchasing library materials," said Shari Olson, library/media specialist for the Maple School District.
In Maple, the annual library aid combats "fake news," promotes higher academic achievement and fuels award-winning readers.
Instead of hefty encyclopedias and dictionaries, the district purchases online databases. They are pricey, Olson said, but they are always current and can be accessed from anywhere. While all the items purchased with the library funds are vital, she said databases may be the most important.
"The term 'fake news' is thrown around quite a bit these days," Olson said. "Students (and adults) have difficulty distinguishing what is true and what is not. Google searches can provide a lot of information but it's up to the reader to be able to evaluate the information to determine if it's legitimate. Information found on databases is accurate, current and written by experts in their field, so that is what I try and get our students in the habit of using."
The library fund provides a wide variety of books that appeal to different interests and reading levels.
"Our libraries are full of new books and we are able to purchase all the Caldecott and Newbery award winning material, favorite authors, newest in a series, books on topics that are being taught in the curriculum,etc. because of the Common School Fund," Olson said.
Northwestern High School students take part in the annual Battle of the Books competition, which tests their knowledge of a large selection of books. When the team sought this year's titles to study, they found them all in the school library.
The team of Lily Cain, Olivia Pangrac, Amanda Lumberg, Alayna Johnson and Ariel Rutten placed second in statewide competition in March. It's the highest a Maple team has ever placed in the annual competition.
The Common School Fund was established by the Wisconsin Constitution in 1848 with the granting of 1.5 million acres of land for educational purposes. Most of the land was sold to create a permanent endowment with the earnings to be used exclusively to support public school libraries.
This year's $32.6 million disbursement was announced April 1 during National School Library Month.
"The Common School Fund is essential to our students' learning, as research shows that school libraries have a positive impact on student achievement, even when socioeconomic factors are accounted for," Olson said.