State Rep. Dick Stevenson (left) tours the library at Grove City High School with librarian Bob McConnell (right) to get a feel for what school libraries will miss if their funding is cut from the state budget.

State Rep. Dick Stevenson stopped in at Grove City Area High School’s library on Friday--and got much more than a story time.

Today’s libraries are high tech and critical to student achievement, but may be facing some challenges with state budget cuts proposed for next year by new Gov. Tom Corbett.

“A strong library program is considered to be a contributor to strong PSSA scores,” said head librarian Robert McConnell, referring to state standardized tests administered to students annually.

Students presented Stevenson with information about the library’s online databases--some of which are funded by the state, such as ACCESS PA and POWER Library--as well as technological equipment in-house.

Stevenson also sat in literature, social studies and history classes to see how teachers are using the library’s resources. Student editor Cathaleen Chen was interviewed about work with the school newspaper.

The day was wrapped up with a small reception in the library for Stevenson, who will be featured in a READ poster in the library, among other posters of English teachers, celebrities and McConnell.

The morning was more than a nice visit to the local high school library.

Corbett’s proposed budget was presented last month with a $1.1 billion cut in education funding statewide. If approved, it would affect Grove City schools with a $1.3 million shortfall, said superintendent Dr. Robert Post.

He’s never seen such a proposal in three decades of work as an educator, he added

Since the governor’s budget was presented, Post has sent out two letters to district parents to inform them of the cuts. He encouraged them to voice their concerns to their representatives, such as Stevenson.

The budget will go through a series of phases before it’s voted on in June; bouncing back and forth between the governor and the state House of Representatives and Senate, then finalized by both bodies of legislators.

There are budget cuts in other areas, but the ones in education are “of most concern and debate,” Stevenson said. “It’s such a substantial amount.”

The cuts were precipitated by the expected end next year of stimulus money that’s been handed out by the federal government to the nation’s schools the past two years. The stimulus for Pennsylvania equaled over $650 million each year, Stevenson said.

The stimulus was to help get schools through the challenges faced by the drop in the economy in 2008. The government anticipated an upswing in the economy by next school year, but that’s not the case.

Pennsylvania “is about $4 billion in the hole,” Stevenson said. “Almost every state is facing a deficit. Ours is not the largest and it’s not the smallest.”

Unemployment is about 8 or 9 percent in Pennsylvania, he added. “There are signs of recovery across Pennsylvania, especially with Marcellus shale,” Stevenson said.

The drilling of shale has been popular for its natural gas. It has been met with enthusiasm for its economic potential to the state and controversy over the unknown impact to the environment.

Otherwise, “Somehow we have to fund (the budget) with fewer dollars,” Stevenson said. “Education is one of those areas.”

The state representative’s visit was a “Legislator@Your Library” event through the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, a state-wide campaign to inform legislators on the importance of school libraries.

McConnell is the director of the PSLA, which is a 1,200-member organization dedicated to providing quality school library services, he said.

PSLA studies show that up-to-date library resources, access to technology and certified school librarians improve student’s reading test scores, he added.

However, 40 percent of all public schools in the state are without a librarian or school library, which are not required by the Pennsylvania School Code.

No early figures have been made on how the impact of a drastic cut in education would affect Grove City’s library, McConnell said.

However, the school budget usually involves the purchase of technology in the library each year, as well as resources like books, periodicals, newspapers, supplies and four online databases.

Stevenson would like to see some of the funding restored to the state budget for both basic and higher education, he added.

In addition to the cuts for public schools, the budget shows a 52-percent decrease in funding for the State System of Higher Education, he noted.

Coming to the school library put a face to Stevenson’s constituents.

“I was happy to be invited by Mr. McConnell to spend the morning with students and see the level of interest in using (the library’s) tools,” he said.

“It’s helpful for me to know where the money goes from Harrisburg to the school district.”

Stevenson expects the budget will change in the upcoming weeks.

“As we go forward, I anticipate it’ll have different proposals,” he said. By June, “I do hope to restore educational line items.”

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