WASHINGTON, DC – Literacy opens the door for lifelong opportunity and economic success.  In an effort to increase literacy and expand opportunity, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03) introduced the bicameral Right to Read Act.  This legislation would help address disparities in access to school library resources and surge federal investment in support of increasing student literacy across America.

Data show that school libraries make a significant, positive impact giving kids the skills and inspiration needed to become proficient and enthusiastic readers. Access to a school library results in 73 percent higher literacy rates for all students and an even more powerful impact for low-income, minority and disabled students.  

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 2.5 million students are enrolled in districts where there are no school libraries, meaning that 1 out of 10 schools in America are without a library and 30 percent do not have full time school librarians. School libraries are most effective when they offer resources that resonate, engage, and empower students; however, 37 states have enacted bans on books that disproportionately limit access to titles with LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color.

The Right to Read Act will help address these disparities, ensuring that students have evidence-based reading instruction, well stocked and staffed school libraries, family literacy programs, a wide range of reading materials, and the freedom to choose what to read.  It also addresses the information digital literacy needs of today’s students.  The bill goes further to strengthen effective school libraries by investing in recruiting and retaining state-certified school librarians, and supporting staff working to broaden access to library collections.

This legislation reaffirms that first amendment rights apply to school libraries in response to the alarming trend of book banning, and it protects school librarians and other educators in carrying out their duty to protect students’ right to read.

“Literacy is the foundation of learning. The Right to Read Act makes sure that every student across America has access to the opportunities literacy provides through high-quality, appropriately staffed school libraries and diverse and inclusive books in schools and at home,” said Senator Reed. “By improving and expanding school libraries and recruiting and retaining professional school librarians, we can make big literacy gains nationwide and help more kids develop the skills needed to become proficient, enthusiastic readers.”

 “The Right to Read Act will address disparities in access to school library resources for under resourced communities and invest critical federal funding to address student literacy in Arizona and across the country,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Under the House Republican majority, GOP politicians have sought to politicize our children’s schools and enable the voices of an extreme few dictate what children can or cannot read. The Right to Read Act is a direct response to those efforts and reaffirms that first amendment rights apply to school libraries, given the alarming trend of book banning, and protects school librarians and other educators in carrying out their duty to protect students’ right to read.”

The Right to Read Act would reauthorize the Comprehensive Literacy State Development grant program at $500 million and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program at $100 million.

The legislation is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, PEN America, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the American Library Association (ALA) and its division, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs Managing Director Nadine Farid Johnson: “First Amendment rights do not stop at the school house gate, nor the library door. In a time when books are under attack across the United States, PEN America welcomes the Right to Read Act which will ensure that libraries are accessible to all students as a place where they can exercise their freedom to read, learn, and think.”

NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick: “Limiting student access to books infringes on a well-rounded education and connecting to the expansiveness of humanity. The Right to Read Act protects access to the benefits of teacher and librarian expertise and, ultimately, a society filled with possibilities rather than fears.”

ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada: “Today's school libraries are dynamic centers of learning that provide access to a wide range of materials and technology. The Right to Read Act, like ALA, insists that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a robust collection in their school library. National Library Week and School Library Month is a fitting time to spotlight how school librarians bridge the gap between access and opportunity for all learners. Now is the time to scale that success – not take it for granted. The Right to Read Act stands up against disinvestment and censorship in school libraries and recognizes that every school library should be staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Strong school libraries staffed by school librarians lead to stronger teachers and greater academic achievement. ALA applauds Senator Jack Reed and Representative Raúl Grijalva for introducing the Right to Read Act.” 

AASL President Kathy Lester: “AASL believes that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a school library staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Administrators, teachers, parents and students rely on school librarians for access to professionally curated resources that meet the needs of the entire learning community. Just as importantly, certified school librarians create a welcoming environment for all students, develop a school-wide culture of reading, teach information literacy and digital literacy skills, and lead meaningful technology integration in their schools. AASL fully supports the Right to Read Act of 2023 and thanks Senator Reed, Representative Grijalva and their staff for recognizing that an effective school library is essential for student success.”