Legislature reinforces inclusivity in state curriculum

The California Legislature passes a bill to impose financial penalties on school districts that ban textbooks on the basis of LGBTQ+ and racial topics

(Photo by SerPak on Adobe Stock)
(Photo by SerPak on Adobe Stock)
Serena Bettis
Published September 12, 2023  • 
1:30 pm

SACRAMENTO – State legislature has passed a bill to discourage school districts from banning textbooks and other instructional materials solely because they contain lessons on culturally and racially diverse groups. Advocates of the law say it will combat the politicization of school curriculums, whereas challengers claim it reduces control at the local level.

Assembly member Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) likened the bill to “government blackmail.” From his account, the portion of the bill that includes a fiscal penalty is an attack on books and education, and is the state’s way of saying “you will follow our woke agenda or else we’ll cut your funding.”

The bill’s fiscal penalty portion states that if a school district is determined to be providing insufficient textbooks or instructional materials, its local control funding formula (LCFF) allocation will be reduced by an amount determined by a calculation involving the Instructional Materials Block Grant.

“This is threatening language,” Mathis said. “This isn’t cool, this isn’t what we’re supposed to be about. You guys (the state) want to talk about freedom, you want to talk about anything else – this is an attack on anybody that doesn’t agree with the majority. This is wrong.” 

The bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom and would take effect immediately.

More about the bill

Proponents of the bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 1078, said that it will keep school districts from banning materials that target specific communities and combat the politicization of education curriculums. 

“We are a state that values race, ethnicity and gender expression,” Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) said. “This bill seeks to ensure that we better protect those values.”

Opponents of the bill, including Assembly member James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said that it enforces a “certain world view” on schools and reduces local control. 

Gallagher said the bill undermines a district’s ability to “determine for themselves how their curriculum is going to be set up, what textbooks they’re going to use consistent with their views and the things they want to instill in their children and their schools.”

AB 1078, which passed the legislature Sept. 7, amends the Education Code to broaden the topics required in social sciences instruction and include a fiscal penalty for districts that do not provide sufficient instructional materials to their students as determined by the county superintendent of education. State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) said the bill restricts a local school board’s ability to deny students access to standards-aligned textbooks that are compliant with the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act) of 2012.

“This bill strengthens existing law to ensure California students have access to comprehensive, culturally competent and accurate instruction about the history, experiences and viewpoints of people from diverse communities in California,” Gonzalez said while introducing the bill on the State Senate floor. 

Challenged books

Before voting on the bill in both the assembly and the senate, legislators addressed how national book banning conversations have reached California schools, including an instance in Temecula, a city in Southern California, where the school district fought against a curriculum that included a biography of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. The topic has also come up locally in Visalia, where Visalia Unified School District has been reviewing the content of library books challenged by parents and other community members. 

The bill adds Section 202 to the Education Code that states schools must “create an equitable learning environment where all pupils … feel welcome, including through honest discussions of racism, the history of slavery in our society and in California and the diversity of gender and sexual orientation that reflects the lived reality of those pupils.” 

It explicitly includes students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, Black, Indigenous and people of color, and states that efforts to “categorically exclude” topics related to race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or other protected characteristics “constitute censorship that violates California law and policy.”

The bill also adds Section 243 to the Education Code, prohibiting a school district, county board of education or the governing body of a charter school from refusing to approve the use of any materials “on the basis that it includes a study of the role and contributions of any individual or group” listed under the required courses of study in the Education Code.

Districts also cannot prohibit the use of these materials, which include textbooks, supplemental instructional materials and any book or other school library resource, according to the bill. 

Also outlined in the bill are ways that community members can file complaints with districts if they feel students are not receiving sufficient instructional materials and includes responsibilities placed upon the county superintendent of education to review those complaints and audit the districts for compliance as needed. 

The bill states the county superintendent should provide the school district with the opportunity to “remedy the deficiency,” and if that does not happen within the second month of the school term, the superintendent must take additional steps to comply with the Education Code’s requirements.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter