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In 2023, we saw a horrifying pattern of attacks on our public education system – through book bans, attempts to divert public school funds to private schools, and attacks on LGBTQ+ students. While efforts to privatize public education, ban books, and discriminate against LGBTQ+ students can seem like isolated incidents, it’s vital to remember that these attacks are connected. They are all part of a larger effort to dismantle the public education system and censor diverse opinions and experiences.

This past year, the minority opinion shouted the loudest to pass policies that discriminate against students and undermine the importance of public education. Join us in our fight to make sure that these attacks end here and make 2024 the year where we fight back to ensure all students, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or income, have access to high-quality public education.

Some of the most alarming patterns we saw across the country in 2023 include:

Privatization of public school funds: In 2023, school privatization measures skyrocketed. 11 states expanded school choice programs and seven enacted new ones. There are now 10 states offering nearly universal or universal voucher programs, which allow almost any student from any financial background, regardless of whether they had already attended private schools, to use public money for private schools.

To recap: Research shows that vouchers benefit the wealthy at the expense of low-income and rural districts. Additionally, vouchers lack accountability and oversight, are rooted in racism and religious discrimination, and mostly go to students already attending private schools.

Attacks on LGBTQ+ students: 2023 was a record year for discriminatory legislation regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, a 60% increase over 2022. Recently, we’ve seen a large increase in states requiring faculty to out students to their parents, making it proper to refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns, and banning trans students from using the bathrooms that align with their preferred pronouns. In 2022, Florida passed its “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and in 2023, six more states passed similar legislation. In addition, five states now require schools to notify parents before discussing LGBTQ+ topics in class.

To recap: Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-K through third grade. In 2023, Florida expanded this rule from third grade to twelfth grade. 

Book Bans: Data has shown a record surge of book challenges in public libraries. A report by PEN America who counts book removals in schools, showed 3,362 instances of book removals, a 33% increase over the previous school year. Libraries across the country have been under attack, facing funding and closure threats over book removals. Libraries have received bomb threats and librarians across the country have been harassed and fired.

To recap: Although 71% of voters oppose banning books, we’ve seen a sharp increase in banned books over the past couple of years. A very small number of people are responsible for most of these bans. For example, just 11 people were responsible for 60% of the book bans in the 2021-2022 school year, according to The Washington Post. Book bans disproportionately censor diverse experiences. A study of banned books showed 33% depicted LGBTQ+ topics and 41% featured prominent characters of color.

While 2023 continued and exacerbated many concerning patterns, we also saw some significant wins for public education. Our next newsletter will outline the promising trends and achievements of this past year.

Court cases in Florida and Iowa have marked important progress to fight discrimination and censorship in schools. While both these cases remain far from over, judges have acknowledged the deep First Amendment concerns that come with book bans and restrictions on classroom discussion.

Florida: A federal lawsuit alleges the Escambia County School District and School Board are violating the First Amendment through book bans. This lawsuit was brought forward by PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, parents and banned authors. A Pensacola judge ruled that the plaintiffs have standing to pursue claims under the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

Iowa: An Iowa law requiring schools to remove certain books and prohibit conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms through sixth grade is currently facing serious legal challenges and unable to be enforced. A federal judge ruled that the book ban language is “incredibly broad” and “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny.” 

PEN America is an organization whose goal is to raise awareness for the protection of free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights. They recently released a cumulative data study from recent school years called Spineless Shelves, Two Years of Book Banning.

Red, Wine, & Blue works to engage women at a grassroots level and drives media narratives to better reflect issues faced by the “everyday woman.” They have resources on messaging and how to organize against extremism.