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Radical forces worked hard to dismantle our nation’s public education system last year. Their attacks were consistent, relentless, and often, successful. These attacks also spurred organizations and individuals on the side of America’s children to fight back.  

These champions helped achieve vital increases in free school meals, pass laws that counter book bans, and squash support for extremist groups such as Moms for Liberty. These achievements must be followed up with even more vigor in 2024.  

Free School Meals:  

Students should never be in “lunch debt” or struggle to pay for their meals at school. In 2023, leaders and lawmakers took this idea to heart and expanded access to universal free meals for millions of students.  

The federal government’s Community Eligibility Provision allows high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring individual families to apply and prove their eligibility. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered the required percentage of students experiencing poverty from 40 percent to 25 percent, allowing many more schools to provide meals to all students and letting kids eat without worry or stigma.  

To recap: Data consistently shows that free school lunches reduce food insecurity, improve nutrition, and have a positive impact on children’s health.  

Book Ban Challenges:  
Book bans continued to escalate in 2023, but so did challenges to them. In states such as Iowa, Texas, and the book ban motherland, Florida, court cases and legislation have flagged several legal issues surrounding this preferred tactic of extremists.  

In Iowa, a law requiring schools to remove certain books and prohibit conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms through sixth grade currently faces serious legal challenges and cannot 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.”  

In Texas, a federal appeals court blocked a law that would require ratings from booksellers that work with school libraries. This decision blocks the Texas Education Agency from enforcing the law. The federal appeals court agreed with a lower court that found the law unconstitutional in September. 

In Florida, a federal lawsuit alleges that the Escambia County School District and School Board are violating the First Amendment by removing books from shelves. A Pensacola judge ruled that the plaintiffs — which include PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, banned authors, and parents — have standing to pursue claims under the First Amendment’s free speech protections. Additionally, Republicans in Florida have proposed legislation making it more difficult to ban books, and it’s already cleared two committees.  

To recap: Book bans censor important, diverse experiences. A study of banned books showed 41 percent depicted LGBTQ+ topics and 40 percent featured primary characters of color.  

The Waning Influence of Moms for Liberty:

A Moms for Liberty endorsement appeared to be a liability for school board candidates in 2023. In states including Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, Moms for Liberty lost crucial races, indicating disapproval of the group’s extremist education policies.  

In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Moms for Liberty recommended five candidates in the Central Bucks school district, all of whom lost. In Minnesota, the four candidates put forward by Moms for Liberty in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District failed to obtain even double-digit support. In Iowa, only one of the 13 candidates the group endorsed won. Just five of the 25 candidates the group backed in Ohio were elected. This pattern repeated in nearly every state where Moms for Liberty endorsed candidates.  

To recap: Moms for Liberty has been the largest and most powerful group promoting discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, censorship, the whitewashing of American history, and privatization of public school funds. For a long time, the group bragged that the vast majority of campaigns they endorsed were very successful. Not anymore. 

Florida: Authors came together to help the free-speech organization PEN America open an office in Florida. Bestselling author Michael Connelly and his wife donated $1 million to the cause. Other authors together donated more than $3.6 million. The center will be located in Miami and will allow PEN America to respond more quickly to censorship and threatened book bans.  

South Carolina: Bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates showed up at a South Carolina school board meeting to support teacher Mary Wood, who was told to stop using Coates book on growing up Black in America in her advanced English class. 

The Authors Guild is America’s oldest and largest professional organization for writers. The Guild advocates on issues of free expression and copyright protection. It offers several resources to fight book bans, including a stop book bans toolkit and a banned books club.  

Advocates for Youth is a nonprofit organization that works alongside thousands of youth in the U.S. and around the globe to fight for reproductive and sexual health, rights and justice. The organization has developed a trans-affirming schools project resource guide as a direct response to the onslaught of anti-transgender disinformation and legislation in the U.S.