A bill in the California Assembly that aims to prevent school boards from excluding books with diverse perspectives, including critical race theory and gender ideology, has moved closer to becoming law. Assembly Bill 1078, after passing in the state Assembly in May, received a 5-2 vote in favor in the Senate Education Committee on July 5. Senators Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and Scott Wilk dissented in the vote. The bill will now be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in the upcoming weeks.
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Corey Jackson with the intention of addressing instances where California school boards have removed books based on race or sexuality rather than the character contained within them. During the hearing, Jackson stated that these book bans prevent students from accessing a wide range of stories and perspectives, restrict teaching and learning, and silence authors, particularly those from marginalized communities.
If passed into law, the bill would prohibit school boards from excluding books based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. However, any other reason for exclusion would require a two-thirds supermajority vote from the respective school board. In addition, the bill mandates audits of library and classroom books, with potential funding penalties for districts that do not have sufficient diverse instructional materials, as per the standards set by the California Department of Education.
The issue of who should make decisions about book selection was debated during the hearing. Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas argued that it is the state’s responsibility rather than local control to address this matter, considering it as a forward-looking policy. Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, on the other hand, believed that the focus should be on academics and cost of living instead of discussions of diversity.
During the hearing, individuals from both sides of the issue passionately spoke in favor or against the bill. A teacher from the Temecula Valley Unified School District, which recently gained statewide attention for rejecting a social studies textbook due to one of its supplemental materials referencing LGBT activist Harvey Milk, expressed support for the bill. The teacher mentioned witnessing the consequences of curriculum denial in their community. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond also voiced his support for the bill, stating that local control does not give the right to threaten or bully students. Thurmond emphasized the importance of inclusive education, claiming that it benefits students academically.
Representatives from the California Teachers’ Association took a neutral stance on the bill but appreciated being included in a working group on the issue. However, there were strong opponents of the bill who argued that it stripped control away from local officials who were elected to represent the desires of their community. One of the opponents, attorney Jennifer Kennedy, compared the bill to tyranny, claiming that it aims to micromanage school board members and enforce a state-mandated LGBT agenda.
The California School Board Association also expressed concerns about the bill, suggesting that if it becomes law, it could set a troubling precedent. The association also raised objections to the financial penalties included in the bill, stating that they may harm a district’s educational programs.
Overall, the bill raises significant debate about the balance between local control and ensuring diversity and inclusivity in educational materials. While proponents argue that it promotes access to a broader range of perspectives, opponents fear that it limits local decision-making and imposes a particular agenda. The bill will now proceed to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration.