What’s the Tennessee textbook commission? A new law could empower the board to ban books statewide.
When considering what books should be allowed in schools, local librarians and school boards usually have final say. But conservative parents have complained that some districts are allowing material that isn’t age appropriate.
Republican lawmakers are creating a new pathway to give a handpicked commission power over what books are allowed.
Until recently, nobody had ever asked many questions about what the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission does — or who’s on it.
Linda Cash, the current chair, says basically their job is “to do a full review of the textbook to ensure that the curriculum covers a full course work for standards.”
The commission is made up of nine appointments split evenly between the House speaker, Senate speaker and governor, who are all currently Republican. And a 10th member selected by the Commissioner of Education.
But now, a soon-to-be-law would allow the commission to have final say on whether a book would be allowed in schools, instead of local officials. Cash says they’re still figuring out how that’ll work.
“We’ll have to develop and come up with terms of implementation because this is the first that this has been before us. So, we’ll have to create that process,” Cash said.
The measure approved by the General Assembly asks the commission to create an appeals process for local book challenges.
“Definitely have heard concerns from librarians in the district,” says Nashville school board member Gini Pupo-Walker.
She says everything was working fine before the state chose to override local decision — a reoccurring theme of recent actions taken by Tennessee’s Republican supermajority. Pupo-Walker says, locally, there’s already a process.
“So, they can have an informal complaint or request to a librarian where a librarian works with them and tries to explain to them how books are selected,” Pupo-Walker said. “Then, there’s a more formal one where the complaint or the request is documented.”
She worries this could lead to statewide book bans.
“Even a complaint that happens in a different county in a different part of the state and that appeal is granted, those books would be removed from our libraries without our input whatsoever, which I think is also really concerning,” Pupo-Walker said.
The bill isn’t law yet, but it likely will be soon. Gov. Bill Lee has sided with conservative parents in the current culture war over what is taught in public schools, giving them more input over student curriculum.