California’s public libraries resilient despite lacking funds

In response to California budget deficits in 2011, Governor Brown cut direct state funding from public libraries, slashing funds from the California Library Services Act (CLSA), the Public Library Foundation and the state literacy program. Since then, California’s legislators have gradually allotted funding back into the state library fund, but these funds come with restrictions that inhibit local libraries’ freedom to decide how to use the money for improvements.

With a lack of direct state funding, Azusa City Librarian Reed Strege has seen public libraries suffer, facing cutbacks in the form of fewer full-time staff members and decreased hours.

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Established in 1959, the Azusa City Library is located down the street from Azusa City Hall. Photo by Maureen Wolff

“They used to just write everybody a check, but they don’t do that anymore. It’s competitive, and you write grants,” said Strege.

Governor Jerry Brown’s California budget proposal for education in fiscal year 2016-2017 adds $4.8 million in funding for public libraries. About $1.8 million of this sum will be added to the state library budget baseline. The remaining $3 million will be a one-time fund for the upcoming year, intended to help libraries move toward improved technology and digitalization.

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Governor Brown’s budget proposal adds almost $4.8 million to one-time and ongoing funds to state libraries via the California Library Services Act. Courtesy of the California Department of Finance.

“It probably sounds like a lot of money, but if you really think about it, it’s really not,” said Strege. He explained that once distributed, state funding doesn’t go very far among public libraries.

Of the $170.7 billion expenditure budget proposal, Governor Brown allots approximately $51.6 million total for the State Library Fund—about .03% of California’s budget.

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The total funding for California’s libraries for fiscal year 2016-2017 is projected to be approximately $51.6 million. Courtesy of the California Department of Finance

Like other public libraries, the Azusa branch must use its grant-awarded funds for projects that are specifically delineated by the state. Though limited in amount and scope, state funding for the Azusa City Library has been effectively put to use in areas such as the library’s adult literacy program and the improvement of broadband internet networks.

Often, additions to state library funding are not given through permanent additions to the budget baseline. Instead, much of state funding comes in the form of one-time grants, the money from which must be used up for a specific project within the year it is given. Neighborhood Connections is one of Azusa’s current programs that is funded by a one-year grant, with funding coming from federally-based Library Services and Technology Act (LTSA) money that has been filtered through the states. The program allows the Azusa community members to consult with a bilingual Community Resource Specialist who can help provide information about health care, housing, employment and more.

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Photo by Maureen Wolff

Seeking to offer its visitors up-to-date content and programs, the Azusa City Library branch offers free WiFi and access to computers. While Strege emphasized that it’s the people themselves that make the libary thrive, he also stated that budget limitations can inhibit access to key resources. Other than the addition of desktop computers, Strege said that the library looks much the same as it did when it opened it 1959. He pointed to poor lighting, scuffed-up bottoms of doors, and worn-out carpets in the library classroom.

“We can get by day to day with the money that we have,” he offered, citing the library’s offering of after-school tutoring, children’s story time, citizenship classes and computer workshops. But when it comes to facility improvements, the money just isn’t available in the city or state budget.

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Courtesy of Maureen Wolff

The city of Azusa granted the library just over one million dollars for the past fiscal year, and as of 2013-2014 estimates, about 91 percent of the library’s funding is local. In addition to funding from the city, the library receives grants from the Canyon City Foundation, an Azusa-based foundation that supports arts and education.

Less than one percent of the Azusa City Library’s funding coming from the state. Because this small allocation of state funding comes with such strict parameters, sometimes the city’s budget is simply insufficient to address the scope of the local library’s needs.

Chair of the California Library Association’s Advocacy and Legislation Committee Sara Jones points to another issue facing public libraries: the disparity in support and resource distribution between cities and counties across California. While the library Jones directs—the Marin County Free Library—is amply supported, areas such as Kern County struggle to maintain taxpayer support.

While state funding additions will not solve all problems, Jones said, they can help build momentum. “The greatest extent it has is to leverage collaboration and cooperation,” she offered, believing that the real strength in libraries does not come from money, but from librarian and citizen advocacy.

While Strege allows that the Azusa library building is “badly outdated,” he hopes that the city will eventually prioritize funds to replace the facilities. Despite the lack of funds, Strege looks forward to future programs and improvements.

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Photo by Maureen Wolff

“I think the library is moving more toward an educational model and a community meeting space,” said Strege. “I would like to see more classes about more topics, and more direct assistance programs to help people learn about important topics like technology, personal finance, health…We do a lot right now, especially with how little time and money we have, but I think we could do more.”

Director of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries Miguel Figueroa said that while economic downturn has had negative effects on state and federal funding for libraries, California’s libraries are on the forefront of adapting their roles to reflect larger trends.

“The future is technology, but it’s also lots of other changes that are happening,” said Figueroa, asserting that many of the innovations happening in the nation’s libraries are not technologically based. While libraries are still grounded in the culture and rhythms of sharing information, many are encouraging not only reading, but doing. Many libraries are providing what Figueroa calls “maker spaces,” allotting room within their facilities for visitors to create and experience learning and expression beyond books.

Public libraries have adapted to a lack of funding with agility, but the fight to save state funding for public libraries is far from over. Governor Brown’s 2016-2017 budget—and specifically his allotment for state library funding—remain open to revision. His proposals for state library funds are expected to be reviewed by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance on May 4, according to a CLA press release.

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Children use the computers in the youth section of the Azusa City Library. Photo by Maureen Wolff

In the meantime, Governor Brown has expressed strong support for California’s libraries, declaring April 10-16 of this year “California Library Week.” He stated in a proclamation, “California’s 1,112 libraries provide a multiplicity of important community functions: fostering a love of reading in people of all ages and walks of life, providing academic support to schoolchildren, teaching literacy skills to adults and serving as a safe haven and connection to social support for our most vulnerable citizens…I applaud all of our public libraries’ efforts to modernize their services, and my budget continues to provide support for library broadband access.”

CLA is calling on all state library supporters to write to legislators on the budget subcommittee, asking them to approve funding proposals and to allocations additional funds for broadband connection grants and adult literacy programs. The budget will receive final approval this summer.

 

 

 

Virginia grants ex-felons right to vote

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Photo Courtesy Flickr/Kelley Minars

Starting in November, the state of Virginia will grant voting rights to about 200,000 individuals who have been convicted of felonies, the Washington Post reports. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced today that ex-felons who are not currently in prison, on parole or on probation may register to vote so that they can cast their ballot in the upcoming presidential election.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the New Virginia Majority, expressed a favorable opinion about McAuliffe’s decision, telling the Washington Post that it was “a historic day for democracy in Virginia and across our nation” and expressing that previous bars to vote were a “discriminatory vestige of our nation’s Jim Crow past.”

Co-Director of the Advancement Project Judith Brown Dianis told the Washington Post that laws preventing ex-felons from the ballot had a “disparate impact on communities of color who have been historically targeted by our nation’s broken system of incarceration.”

The Washington Post cites a recent estimate from The Sentencing Project that 1 out of every 13 African-American individuals is prevented from voting, with the article suggesting that this is linked with limitations to convicts’ voting rights.

The states vary widely in the scope of rights granted to people who have been convicted of crimes. California allows all people who are not in prison or on parole to vote, including anyone who has been previously convicted of criminal charges. However, states such as Kentucky and Iowa permanently revoke voting rights from those who have been convicted for felony charges.

The process of regaining voting rights also varies between states, and has been criticized by some experts as being complicated and costly. Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander calls the process “a bureaucratic maze” that can be so frustrating that ex-convicts give up on getting their voting rights back.

McAuliffe made key strides to streamlining the process, cutting down on paperwork and waiving a rule that required ex-felons to pay for standing court fees before they could vote. With a more intuitive process of regaining voting rights, the thousands of ex-felons that could not influence Virginia’s political climate have an increased opportunity to sway national polls come November.

Gender-Neutral Bathroom Opens in LAUSD

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Santee High School, the first LAUSD school to establish a gender-neutral restroom, held a press conference yesterday.

Santee Education Complex is the first school in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) to open gender-neutral bathrooms for students, the L.A. Times reports.

The South-Central high school   is seeking to provide a restroom space for students who do not feel comfortable identifying with gendered restroom facilities. A 15-stall women’s restroom on the campus will be given new signage to demarcate it as an “All-Gender Restroom.”

According to Southern California Public Radio (SCPR), Santee’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was instrumental in the establishment of this newly gender-neutral restroom. Members started a campaign titled “It’s Just a Toilet” to advocate for a comfortable and safe restroom space for transgender students and others.

In an interview with SCPR, on the Santee’s GSA leaders Kween Robinson said, “A lot of times students don’t want to speak up because they feel like they’re going to be belittled or like their voice isn’t really going to be heard. You have a voice, use it.”

While the L.A. Times notes that concerned individuals are expressing worry about potential bullying, advocates of the new restroom on all levels of the high school have committed to helping keep it a safe facility. The schools GSA has promised to check the restrooms frequently, with the staff and the principal himself promising to regularly monitor the bathrooms as well.

 

Bernie Sanders-South Bronx, New York: Analysis

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Vermont Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in South Bronx, NY. Photo Courtesy Flickr/Michael Vadon

At a March 31 campaign rally in South Bronx, NY, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stood in a sea of waving blue signs proclaiming “A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” and addressed a crowd of lively supporters.  Branding himself as an anti-establishment Robin Hood figure, Sanders decried the country’s wealth disparity, frequently using the word “unacceptable” to rouse the crowd against Wall Street greed.

Sanders personalized the beginning of his address with a narrative of his early years, proclaiming, “I am very proud that I was born here in New York City, that my wife was born in Brooklyn, New York. My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland without a nickel in his pocket.” With the combination of Sanders’ father’s immigration story and his own pride in the self-titled “State of Opportunity,” Sanders appealed to the heritage of New York born-and-breds as well as the 34% of Bronx County that is foreign-born.

Showing that he had clearly researched his audience, Sanders spoke strategically about issues faced by the South Bronx community. Below are four major assertions made by Sanders during the rally:

#1: Sanders cited the nation as having “the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth” and “more people in jail than any other country on earth.”

These national issues are relatable in a county that has 31.5% of its population living in poverty and has spent over two decades lowering crime rates. That being said, the senator’s claims regarding childhood poverty are rhetorically deceptive, as it is unclear how “major country” is defined in any concrete manner.

His statement might lead listeners to believe that the U.S. rate is the highest of all countries in poverty rates, when a 2012 report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranks the United States 27th. Of the 35 countries UNICEF calls “economically advanced,” the U.S. ranks second highest, with a childhood poverty rate of 23.1%, following Romania’s 25.5 percent.

As for Sanders’ claim about Americans jail counts, his statement is factually true but is strategically phrased to skew audience perspective. The World Prison Brief (WPB) lists the United States as number one in total prison population, with over 2.2 million individuals incarcerated. However, because the U.S. is one of the largest nations in the world, pure headcount does not offer as much insight as rate of incarceration. Looking at jail population proportionally, Sanders’ statement can be seen as manipulating the numbers. In terms of prison population per 100,000 people, the U.S. rate of 698 takes second place, behind the Seychelles rate of 799.

#2: Speaking to a 43.5% African-American county, Sanders touched on law enforcement prejudice, referencing rates of arrest. In the specific context of marijuana legality and use, Sanders commented that “where this becomes a racial issue is that it turns out that the black community and the white community smoke marijuana at about the same rates, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites.”

In terms of his claim about arrests, Sanders seems to be approximately accurate, with a Human Rights Watch report pointing to a 2007 drug arrest ratio of 3.6 African-American individuals for every one white individual. Sanders’ assertions regarding rates of marijuana usage also hold up, with an American Civil Liberties Union study listing 14% of African-Americans and 12% of Whites reporting marijuana usage in 2010.

While Sanders’ claims hold up statistically, his presentation of marijuana usage may be overly simplified. Because recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in many places, it is likely that a significant proportion of users may not admit to consuming the drug, creating a gap between actual demography and reporting demography.

#3: Later in his address, Bernie talked about his involvement in a positive process of change through Obamacare, saying, “I am a member of the committee that wrote the Affordable Care Act…we provided insurance to 17 million people who didn’t have it.”

Indeed, a 2015 report by the Department of Health and Human Services claims that the Affordable Care Act granted coverage to 17.6 million individuals who previously had no insurance. But the senator may have exaggerated his role in the legislation. Sanders was not as much of an all-in Obamacare proponent as he painted himself to be for his South Bronx listeners. PolitiFact reports that “despite making contributions to the final legislation, Sanders was, for most of the process, an outsider pushing for a more aggressive single-payer system rather than an insider negotiating and crafting the final design of the bill.”

#4: Wrapping up his speech, Sanders urged the audience to participate in New York’s April 19 primary, declaring, “If there is a large voter turnout, we will win. And if we win here in New York, we are going to make it to the White House.”

Polls, however, indicate that Sanders’ confidence in a primary win is unfounded, with FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of poll aggregations projecting a 2% chance of a New York victory for the Vermont senator. According to a Fox News poll from April 4-7, 53% of New York Democrats plan to vote for Clinton in the upcoming primary.

As for the national stage, a Reuters/Ipsos poll from April 2-6 indicates that Clinton and Sanders are neck-and-neck for the Democratic Nomination, with Clinton polling at 49% and Sander just below at 48 percent. Thus, while Sanders overstates his likelihood to win in New York, his strong poll numbers indicate that he is still in the running for the democratic nomination.

Specifically, the democratic nominee needs to win 2,383 delegates to continue toward the White House. As of April 10, the New York Times indicates that Clinton has won 1,305 while Sanders claims 1,086. The gap between superdelegate counts is more dramatic, with Clinton’s 469 dwarfing Sanders’ 31.

While Sanders may have oversimplified some more complex national issues in his South Bronx rally speech, his overall statistical citations were accurate and grounded in evidence. With 20 primaries still remaining, Sanders could still best Clinton, but the democratic nomination will be anything but a handout.

California first to $15 an hour minimum wage

 

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Just how much is flipping burgers worth? California has an answer for you: in six years, each hour at the fryer—and any other minimum wage job—might pay as much as six dollars more than it does now.

As of March 31, California is slated to progress to a $15 per hour rate by 2022. At a current minimum wage of $10 per hour, California is already in second place for highest statewide rate, and will be the first state to make it to $15, according to a CNN article.

Not everyone is a fan of the wage hike. In an interview with CNN, research director of the Employment Policies Institute Michael Saltsman expressed concern that higher minimum wage rates will be bad for businesses, causing them to fire employees or shut down.

In contrast, movements such as “Fight For $15” point to workers’ struggle to provide for everyday necessities while living on current minimum wage rights.

To be sure, the debate over minimum wage in the United States has been heated, sparking critical political and economic debate. According to a CNN report, more than 40% of U.S. workers make less than $15 per hour, meaning that a movement toward a $15 minimum wage for states would raise the pay of well over a third of the nation’s employees.

New York has also just approved a plan to increase minimum wage to $15 per hour, although it is by region and will not be implemented statewide as in California.