Banning textbook bans in California is the goal of a bill now headed to the governor’s desk.
In mainly party-line votes, the Democratic-controlled state legislature on Thursday, Sept. 7, passed AB 1078, legislation seen as Sacramento’s counter-strike against conservative school boards that keep certain textbooks and related materials out of the classroom.
In most cases, the boards say they’re protecting children from pornography and other harmful content. Critics contend they’re trying to erase any mention of LGBTQ people or truthful lessons about the role of race in U.S. history.
A textbook showdown occurred earlier this year in Temecula, where the school board rejected an elementary social studies curriculum with supplemental materials that referenced the late LGBTQ civil rights leader Harvey Milk. Two board members called Milk a “pedophile.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to send textbooks to Temecula and fine the Temecula Valley Unified School District if the board did not approve the curriculum. The Temecula school board eventually adopted it.
Sponsored by Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris, AB 1078 would require school boards to approve materials that “accurately portray the contributions of people of all genders and the role and contributions of Latino Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, and other ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic status groups.”
School boards defying the mandate would risk losing state funding.
AB 1078 would apply to school library materials as well. The bill would also let the state buy textbooks for school districts that don’t comply, with the cost coming out of those districts’ share of state money.
Newsom, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill.
“California is the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” the governor said in a news release issued by Jackson’s office.
“With the passage of this legislation that bans book bans and ensures all students have textbooks, our state’s Family Agenda is now even stronger. All students deserve the freedom to read and learn about the truth, the world, and themselves.”
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The release also quoted, Jackson, who is Black, as saying: “We’re taking a firm stand against book banning in California’s schools, ensuring that our students have access to a broad range of educational materials that accurately represent the rich cultural and racial diversity of our society.”
Conservatives oppose AB 1078, calling it an attack on parents’ rights and local control of public education. Dozens flocked to a Senate appropriations committee hearing in August to fight the bill.
“It’s extremely frustrating to see this bill before us, which would not only make it harder for school boards to do their job, but it would silence the voices of parents and community members that are rightfully upset,” Assemblymember Kate Sanchez, a Republican representing parts of Orange and Riverside counties, said on the Assembly floor.
The California School Boards Association also opposes AB 1078, calling it “draconian and duplicative” because existing state law already accomplishes the bill’s goals. AB 1078 would cause confusion and unintended consequences, the association was quoted as saying in a legislative analysis of the bill.
AB 1078 passed the Assembly by a 61-17 vote and the Senate by a 31-9 vote.