How you can help us extend Bookshare federal funding
By Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO, Benetech
As you may have heard or seen, the federal government funding from the Department of Education that includes Bookshare is in danger. Benetech and the entire Bookshare community have been hard at work resolving this issue in a variety of ways, from field visits to congressional offices in key districts and states to a letter-writing campaign to representatives and senators.
Thousands of students, parents, teachers, and supporters around the country have contacted their representatives letting them know how critical Bookshare is to students with print disabilities. Those efforts are making a difference and your voices are being heard. We were in Washington recently, and we heard from many key Republican and Democratic staffers how they had heard from Bookshare fans and that it made a big difference in their funding decisions!
On behalf of Benetech and Bookshare, we cannot say thank you enough for the support so far. But we need to keep it going. We know many of you have helped out, and we hope many more will continue the effort. We thought it would be helpful to provide an update on where things are as well as the approach we are taking given some of the recent changes in Washington, D.C.
“Bookshare gets a big thumbs up from me. I don’t know where my grades would be if I had not found Bookshare.” – Omree Sabo, Bookshare member and student with dyslexia at Redwood High School in California
Let’s start with some background. First, be assured that Bookshare has federal funding through September, 2017. The crisis at hand involves the budget year that begins on October 1, 2017. Last summer, the House of Representatives proposed a spending bill that would drastically cut funding for the program from which Bookshare receives its support. They were not targeting Bookshare specifically; instead, our funding was affected by a much larger strategy of redirecting the funding to different areas. The Senate, on the other hand, proposed a bill that would keep the funding at the same level that it was in the 2016 fiscal year.
So where are we now? Initial indications were that the House and Senate would come together prior to the end of this year to negotiate a final spending package for the 2017 fiscal year. Instead, it is now expected that there will be a short-term spending bill, also known as a Continuing Resolution, that funds the government at current budget levels through March 31, 2017, halfway through the current budget year.
As a result, we will continue our outreach and congressional efforts, and we are now tailoring the activities and timing to ramp up in February and March. We’ll need your help at the right moment for maximum impact on this critical funding decision. Please sign up online as a Bookshare supporter. We’ll ask what you are willing to do to pitch in, which could range from making a phone call, sending an email, or visiting your representatives in late winter or early spring.
As you probably know, this appeal for help is incredibly rare for us at Benetech, the nonprofit that operates Bookshare. We wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t critically important to Bookshare’s continued viability. Members of Congress prioritize programs that their constituents tell them are important, and your support could mean the difference between Bookshare continuing to help those with print disabilities or no longer being able to do so.
Thank you to everyone who has jumped in to support Bookshare to date; we’ve had a terrific response so far. Your help is very much appreciated by the Benetech and Bookshare team and our over 400,000 student members!
Our best wishes to all for the coming holiday season.
I will be available to help either through a direct visit or by email, etc to my Senator and Congressman. I am totally blind for about 5 years due to endocarditis which destroyed my retinas. I am using Bookshare for the last 16 months in order to retrain myself in a different profession (I was a pharmacist for 26 years). Without Bookshare, I would be hard-pressed to get access to the knowledge necessary to retrain myself and return to functioning as a productive, value-adding member of the workforce.
Thank you so much for your support of Bookshare and your willingness to lobby on its behalf. We applaud your efforts to retool your skills for a new profession, and it is gratifying to hear that Bookshare is an integral part of your learning process. We wish you much success on your journey.
With much appreciation,
Laura and the rest of the Bookshare team at Benetech