By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Adding to an ongoing war of words between California and leaders of red states, Gov. Gavin Newsom lambasted several states for banning books and limiting teachers’ ability to discuss gender and sexual identity in classrooms during remarks in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
Speaking from the National Forum on Education Policy, Gov. Newsom said he believes “education is under assault in ways that I’ve never experienced in my lifetime.”
“I thought it was bad back in the day when folks were debating the merits or demerits around vouchers,” the governor said. “But what’s happening now — banning books, suppressing speech, the othering of our students, teachers, parents – it’s alarming.”
Gov. Newsom was attending the national forum to accept the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation, an annual award given to a state or territory “that is enacting innovative education reforms” or implementing programs “to improve student outcomes on a large scale.” California was the 2022 recipient for its “coordinated approach to educating all students from preschool to postsecondary” and financial investments to ensure “educational equity.”
The award highlights a shift in California, which ranked 32nd in the nation for per-pupil spending during the 2018-2019 school year, according to a 2021 school financing report from the Education Law Center. The latest budget signed by Gov. Newsom includes the highest level of funding for K-12 education in state history at $128.6 billion, which the governor’s office says amounts to about $22,893 per pupil.
While the governor did highlight certain investments in education during his speech, such as the state’s initiative to develop pre-K for all and provide universal meals in public schools, he used most of his time Wednesday to criticize red states, saying there is a “moral and ethical obligation to call out what’s going on as it relates to the suppression of free speech.”
The governor specifically called out policy decisions in several states, including Texas and Florida, to ban books and introduce laws to “gag free speech.” Gov. Newsom said in total, there have been more than 1,500 books banned in the U.S. over the span of the last 12 months and 183 bills introduced to “gag free speech” since last January.
Gov. Newsom specifically called out Florida for the signing of House Bill 1557 — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics – that prohibits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade. Paraphrasing a statement by former California Gov. and U.S. President Ronald Reagan regarding the Briggs Initiative, Gov. Newsom told attendees Wednesday “You can’t catch gay like you can measles.”
Gov. Newsom has plans to meet with members of the Biden administration and national leaders to discuss abortion, gun safety and other national issues while he is in Washington, D.C., according to his office. He’s scheduled to return to California on Friday.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.