Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Bill to fine book-banning California schools headed to governor’s desk

One state senator said it's "outrageous" that politicians — elected school boards — would ban books, while another said local control is being eroded.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Two closely watched bills — one related to school book bans and local control, and the other focused on affordable housing — cleared major legislative hurdles Thursday.

Assembly Bill 1078, dealing with which books local school boards can remove from their shelves, passed the state Senate in a 30-to-9 vote. It returned that afternoon to the Assembly for a final vote on amendments and passed with 55 votes. It now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk, where it will become effective immediately if signed into law.

The bill’s author — Assemblyman Corey Jackson, a Moreno Valley Democrat — has said the bill is an attempt to address book bans. Banning books silences writers and often hurts marginalized communities.

The bill expands existing law, stating that instructional materials at schools must properly portray society’s cultural and racial diversity. Additionally, it prohibits a local school board from refusing to use a textbook or other materials based on the role and contributions of a person or group.

Also, if the superintendent of public instruction determines a local educational agency hasn’t offered sufficient materials, it would face a penalty against its local control funding formula allocation.

Thursday’s vote drew impassioned debate on the Senate floor. State Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, a Yucaipa Republican, said her concerns weren’t about diversity or inclusion. Instead, she worried about students accessing age-inappropriate materials.

“Nowhere in this bill do we talk about books being age-appropriate,” Ochoa Bogh said.

She added: “This limits local control, gives it to the state.”

Ochoa Bogh said student enrollment is falling in public schools. She fears AB 1078 would lead more students to leave the public school system and the state.

State Senator Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat, said his district includes school districts with members who believe conspiracy theories and ban books. In one district a parent complained, which led to a number of books getting banned. He said it’s the parents’ responsibility to control what their children read.

State Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, said he trusts teachers and librarians to properly curate school libraries. He called it “outrageous” for a politician to ban books.

“These are school boards, a governmental agency, engaging in censorship,” Wiener said. “It’s not going to stop at school libraries.”

Jackson praised his bill’s passage.

"Today's Senate passage of AB 1078 is a significant step forward in our mission to protect the accessibility of diverse educational resources and provide for parents a backstop ensuring California’s students receive an inclusive education, which is already provided by California state law,” he said in a statement.

Another bill had more support and smoother sailing Thursday.

Senate Bill 4, which would allow faith institutions and nonprofit colleges to build affordable housing on their property, passed the Assembly on Thursday, 56-1. It now returns to the state Senate for a final vote on amendments.

Wiener, the bill’s author, said in a release that his legislation would open over 170,000 acres for affordable housing. It ensures that faith institutions and nonprofit colleges could build that housing without having to jump through expensive rezoning and discretionary approval processes.

The bill rezones affected properties and ensures the California Environmental Quality Act and local political processes aren’t misused to stop the housing.  

Any group that builds this affordable housing must keep rentals affordable for 55 years and properties that are owned affordable for 45 years. Density and height requirements are linked to what’s appropriate by state law.

“This groundbreaking legislation provides a powerful tool to tackle the massive affordable housing shortage facing California,” Wiener said. “We need to build 1 million affordable homes in the next eight years to meet our housing goals, and hundreds of faith communities and nonprofit colleges have excess land that can and should be used for affordable housing. I’m thrilled to see a victory for this broad coalition — let’s get it over the finish line.”

Categories / Education, Government, Law, Regional

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