One of the many reasons book challenges have grown in the last year is that it creates tremendous paperwork and time investment on the behalf of a school district. This, in turn, allows those who challenge to point to inadequacies in how schools are being run because they’ve invested so much time and money into having a book in the facility they believe should not have been there to begin with. It creates a compelling argument for how tax money is misspent, furthering the belief many of these censors have that they should have the right to receive vouchers (on taxpayer money) to send their children to whatever school they wish.
But have we looked at this from the opposite side yet? Just how much money do these challenges steal from schools, which are already underfunded?
Let’s do a little back of envelope math. Note that every figure here, unless otherwise noted, is an estimate. I’m aiming low on all estimates for the sake of simplicity and the sake of as much equity across schools country-wide. We know some states fund their schools better than others.
Francis Howell School District in Missouri has seen a number of challenges this school year, and as part of their reporting process, have noted the costs of procuring each book for the committee to review. Let’s take a challenge of Tiffany D. Jackson’s book Monday’s Not Coming as our challenge example and use the cost of $151 for the committee. That’s the cost of the book, so assuming they spent $20 on each copy, that comes out to 7.55 copies, one for each committee member. For generosity’s sake, we’ll round down to seven committee members.
Each member of the committee for reconsideration needs to read the book in full in order to evaluate and discuss the title. Some of the members of the committee will be administrators, some will be teachers, and others may be community members. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say they each cost $15 an hour for their work (again, averages tell us the administrators and teachers should be making more than that hourly and if they’re salaried, it’s even more tough to quantify). If a book takes two hours to read, at $15 an hour, for seven people, we’ve now sunk $210 into that time alone. Add to the $155 cost for the books, we’re now at $365 for the challenge of a single book.
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We haven’t yet gotten to the discussions. Perhaps the discussions will be two hours, too. They are likely to be a lot longer and stretch out over more than one meeting, but again, let’s get as basic as possible. That’s another $210 in costs for time.
Add up the books, the cost to read the books, and the cost to discuss them, and a single book challenge now costs $575. In Missouri, the state caps its per student spending at $6,375. Each single book challenge equates to roughly 9% of total capped spending per student in the state.
You can imagine not only what that means when more than one book is challenged at a school, with real costs that are higher than the above-estimated ones, and and the tremendous cost of paperwork not included.
So indeed, this is a big cost. But it’s a big cost being purposefully created by those who are eager to see the public education system crumble so they can have tax money used to fund private, usually religious, schools and continue harming the most vulnerable members of our society.
This Week’s Call to Action
Stopping this wave of book bans, as well as anti-CRT/SEL movements, is going to take far more than awareness. It requires action. Those who want “parental oversight” are running for and winning spots on their local school and library boards. If you care about student rights and the freedom to read and access information, run for one of these open seats and/or encourages others to do so.
Run for Something is offering a free training on school boards next Wednesday, March 9, at 8 p.m. EST. Register and learn about why this is important and how to get involved in your local school board.
For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you may want to use FOIA to uncover book challenges.
Book Censorship News: March 4, 2022
Note: this week’s list is shorter than normal, and not because of good news. I’ve just been paywalled from so many sources now that I can’t even read what’s going on. As a reminder, paywalls help ensure fake news spreads more easily than facts because the fake stuff is free and abundant.
- The Marlboro School Board in the Hudson Valley, New York, pulled two books from their shelves: Dear Martin and The Poet X. The statement from the school board doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
- Lake Forest High School in Illinois is keeping Gender Queer on shelves but with an age restriction, and the same restriction will be applied to Saga. This piece of high school journalism says a whole lot — the parent who complained about Gender Queer, as quoted in the story, doesn’t even have students in the school, as she pulled them before this school year.
- Two books challenged in the Coeur d’Arlene Public Library in Idaho will remain on shelves.
- Wentzville, Missouri, is returning books to shelves after complaints. Turns out the ACLU getting involved makes these reconsiderations happen more quickly.
- Remember how Wake County Public Library pulled Gender Queer? Now the library is working on its collection development and reconsideration policies, this time with staff and board input, both of which were unaware of the whys behind the initial book removal.
- Five of the 156 books challenged in Indian River school libraries in Florida will be removed. The rest likely will return to shelves (but probably not without a fight, since Moms For Liberty is really pushing here).
- This one is all over the place. At Wheeling Park High School in Ohio County in West Virginia, a number of books that were to be part of curriculum will not be, as many deemed them “inappropriate” for the age group. Among them is a book about Galileo, wherein the complaint was that it too focused on his persecution by the Catholic church…and book about sea horses.
- Even though Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is back on shelves in Elizabethtown Area School District in Pennsylvania, parents are still showing up to board meetings to complain about how it is pornography.
- I’ve not heard of “First Amendment Audits” but apparently those are happening in Michigan public libraries.
- Utah has had a whole wave of book censorship legislation, and the update from Canyon Rivers is that all of the books that weren’t previously removed are back on shelves (they removed three last year).
- Keep an eye on Fort Worth, Texas, as parents are complaining about curriculum and are poised to do some book challenging.
- The book reconsideration committee in Hamilton County, Tennessee, is still working through the books deemed “obscene,” including Looking for Alaska.
- Iowa’s Johnston County School Board changed their meeting rules to limit how long public comments could continue, as well as redefining who may speak at their meetings. This comes in the wake of several book challenges.
- In Elmhurst, Illinois, a “concerned parents” group is claiming victory in their challenge of It’s Perfectly Normal. Problem is…the book was never removed.
- Students showed up to the Hunterdon Central Regional High School board of education meeting in New Jersey this week to cheer the decision to protect their intellectual freedom.
- A deep dive into what’s going on with censorship and “parents rights” across California.
- Another place to keep an eye on is Ely, Minnesota, where one of the two candidates running for school board are doing so on a pro–book removal stance.
- Granbury ISD is working through their giant list of challenged titles. As of now, one additional book has been removed, but officials won’t share what that title is until the review is complete.
- This Virginia bill would notify parents any time there is “sexually explicit” content in school material. Who gets to decide what that even means?
- Two more books were returned to shelves in the long-running Campbell County library challenge (Wyoming).
Two additional stories to read this week include directors who’ve left their public library posts due to challenges with the board:
- Why Didn’t The New York State Education Department Defend Its State Librarian?: This Week’s Book Censorship News, March 11, 2022
- Take One Step This Week Toward Combating Censorship: This Week’s Book Censorship News, February 25, 2022
- How Faith-Based, Right-Wing Money Is Waging War Through Book Challenges: Book Censorship News, February 18, 2022
- Is a Curriculum Update a Book Ban?: This Week’s Book Censorship News, February 11, 2022
- Book Sales, Promotion, and Donations Don’t Solve Censorship: This Week’s Book Censorship News, February 4, 2022
- Who Are Moms for Liberty?: This Week’s Book Censorship News, January 28, 2022
- How Are Censors Encouraging Others To Join Their Campaigns? This Week’s Book Censorship News, January 21, 2022
- Right Wing Group Demands Censorship Action From Attorney General: This Week’s Book Censorship News, January 14, 2022
- Censorship Bills On the Table in Nearly Half of U.S. States: This Week’s Book Censorship News, January 7, 2022