At the end of October, Texas Republican State Representative Matt Krause sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency with a 16 page list consisting of over 800 book titles. He asked school districts to identify if they had any of the books on the spreadsheet, as well as to report how much they spent on these materials. Additionally, districts were requested to identify any other books or materials they had (and how much those materials cost) that may contain topics ranging from human sexuality to “material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” He closed by saying, “Your prompt attention to this request is appreciated, and I request a written response via email by November 12, 2021.”
After going through all 850 books on this list, I found that it primarily targeted LGBTQ books as well as antiracism books, books addressing teen pregnancy, and sex education books. LGBTQ books, antiracist books, and sex education books belong in school libraries — but this request isn’t just wrong from an ethical standpoint. It also would require an incredible amount of staff time from every school district in the state.
Just one school district, The Lewisville Independent School District, estimated it would cost them 158 hours and almost $3,000 to complete Krause’s request. They requested that this funding be given upfront before they embark on the project. A nearby district put the number at $1,300. Some districts have catalogues of over a million books, making the request functionally impossible, especially when trying to assess whether a book could hypothetically make a reader feel discomfort or guilt.
Austin ISD and Dallas ISD, some of the largest districts in the state, have stated they will not be replying, calling it an “unofficial request” that doesn’t require a response. An Austin ISD representative, Jason Stanford, pointed out that Krause can search their catalogues himself, since they’re posted on the website.
Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD began work immediately, with about a dozen staff members working on the request, including those involved in curriculum development and the district director of libraries. In the two weeks following Krause’s email, they estimated they spent 250 hours of staff time, and requested an extension to the deadline.
What it would require to fulfill this request is up for debate. Searching the catalogue for the titles listed is straightforward enough, if time-consuming. Combing through financial records would take longer. How, though, to identify any other materials that could fall under the categories Krause outlined? How much research is needed? Do the books have to be read in their entirety, in case there’s sexual content in the last chapter? Who is qualified to make the decision of whether a book could cause discomfort or not?
I’m not a mathematician, but let’s do some back of the envelope calculations. Obviously, each district is coming to different conclusions based on how big the district is, how many books they carry in their combined school and classroom libraries, as well as how thorough they are in their investigation. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, for instance, is spending more time than The Lewisville ISD estimated, despite having half the number of schools.
So let’s go with the lowest number given: $1,300 for a single district. This is going to be lower than the actual total, since the other estimates given are higher and some districts are larger, but let’s use it as a baseline. Texas has 1,202 public school districts and charters. If every district spent $1,300 in staff time to investigate this list, it would cost the state $1,562,600.
Of course, that’s on the low side. If 158 hours of staff time come to $2,844, as The Lewisville ISD said, that comes out to $18 an hour — that seems low, especially since a Curriculum and Instruction Specialist Salary in Austin, TX makes about $37 an hour, but I’ll go with that. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD reported they already spent 250 hours in staff time and weren’t complete, but let’s use that number. This would come out to $4,500 each district, or $5,409,000 for all of Texas. Again, this number could be higher, depending on staff salaries and how many additional hours they spent after the initial 250.
Do Texas Republicans really believe this is the best use of millions of dollars of taxpayer money? Thousands of teachers spending hours combing through millions of book titles to match against a list that was hastily compiled using keyword searches?
Pulling LGBTQ, antiracist, and sex ed books out of schools would be ethically wrong even if it was efficient. It just happens to also be inefficient, potentially costing the state millions of dollars. Luckily, most districts aren’t bowing to the pressure and aren’t wasting their times and resources on this, because this list is not deserving of that kind of time or money investment.