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Florida Congressman Proposes Federal Funding to Help Schools Fight Book Bans

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost unveiled legislation Tuesday to combat a nationwide surge in book bans.

Frost, a Florida Democrat, is pushing the “Fight Book Bans Act,” which he discussed at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol alongside fellow House Democrats and advocacy groups. Frost’s bill would provide funding for school districts so that they can afford to oppose book bans.

U.S. Democratic Reps. Pete Aguilar of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Jasmine Crockett of Texas, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick of Florida, Greg Casar of Texas and Shontel Brown of Ohio voiced support for the legislation.

The lawmakers were also joined by Laura Schroeder, the lead of congressional affairs at PEN America, Maureen O’Leary, director of field and organizing at Interfaith Alliance, and Michael Huggins, director of policy and government affairs at Color of Change. Color of Change is a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization.

Both the House and Senate have held hearings this year about the recent increase in book bans. These cases of censorship have frequently targeted books about the LGBTQ+ community and people of color.

“What we wanted to do is find a way to give and to arm our school boards with the resources that they need to fight to ensure that Rosa Parks stays on the shelf, to fight to ensure that Roberto Clemente stays on the shelf, to fight to ensure that Amanda Gorman stays on the shelf,” Frost said.

“The Life of Rosa Parks” by Kathleen Connors was banned in Duval County, Florida, according to a report from PEN America.

Earlier this year, a book about Roberto Clemente, a former Major League Baseball player who was Puerto Rican, was pulled from shelves in Florida schools. Poet Amanda Gorman’s book “The Hill We Climb,” was also challenged in Florida in May.

Under Frost’s legislation, the Department of Education would help cover book ban-related expenses up to $100,000 for each school district, Frost said. He said the total appropriation for the program would be $15 million over five years.

“There are a lot of school districts where they just don’t have the money to defend themselves against these efforts to ban books,” Raskin said.

Frost said over 3,000 books have been banned this year. More than 40% of book bans in the U.S. have happened at schools in Frost’s home state of Florida, according to a report from PEN America.

Schroeder said PEN America recorded “5,894 instances of book bans across 41 states” from July 2021 to June 2023.

“This is the first step that we’re taking in ensuring that extremists are no longer allowed to prey upon our children and their education system,” Cherfilus-McCormick said.

Cherfilus-McCormick also said the bill is “one of the first steps that we’re taking to empower our school boards and our teachers and our parents.”

O’Leary said her organization is “deeply concerned with the coordinated national campaign to censor our classrooms and libraries, demonize teachers and intimidate librarians and create hostile learning environments, particularly for students representing minority faiths, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities.”

“The Fight Book Bans Act is an important first step to alleviate some of the financial burden falling on districts as they weigh the trade-off between a thorough and often costly review process, or simply banning a book outright,” Schroeder said. “For districts to maintain best practices while faced with increasing book challenges, federal support may be their lifeline.”

Source: IOWA Capital Dispatch