California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation Monday prohibiting schools from banning books because they highlight race, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics, a rebuttal to efforts in Florida and other GOP-led states to severely restrict students’ reading materials.
The legislation authored by state Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D) enacts a financial penalty against school districts that make “efforts to categorically exclude” books related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other demographics that have faced discrimination.
In a statement Monday, Newsom referenced recent pushback from California’s Temecula Valley Unified School District. Its board twice rejected California’s new social studies book and curriculum because of its coverage of LGBTQ+ historical figures.
“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom said in a statement. “With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.”
Though the Temecula school board finally agreed in July to adopt the new curriculum, its members said it would pull any material referencing Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Two members of the board, Joseph Komrosky and Danny Gonzalez, claimed during meetings that Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, was a “pedophile.”
While Temecula is an outlier in California, book banning is becoming commonplace in Republican-controlled states. The number of book bans in public schools nationwide increased by 33% in the 2022-23 school year compared to the previous one, the free speech organization PEN America said in a report released last week. In total, the organization tracked 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles.
Florida is far and away the leader in book bans, the report noted.
“Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida,” it said. “Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 bans in Pennsylvania.”
Among the most repeatedly banned books are the 2019 memoir “Gender Queer” and a recent graphic novel version of 1985’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”