The Taxpayers' Rising Financial Burden of Banning Books
How much are taxpayers paying to fund the book banning crusade?
As another potential government shutdown looms, budgetary questions are top of mind for a lot of politicians. And as some of those politicians would point out: there is a cost to everything. Even banning a book. So what does it actually cost to strip a book off library shelves? (Click to tweet)
Help us spread the word!
Never mind that the educational value lost is incalculable.
We can actually demonstrate how much money- tax payer money; your money- is being spent on taking books away from students. Let’s take a look at a few real world examples of the dollars that go into banning books. Then you can decide if this is what you want your tax payer money going towards. Or if you think it would be better spent elsewhere.
Banning a book comes down essentially to two things. Parts and labor. The “parts” in this case are the books themselves. After all, it's hard to ban a book if you do not have it in the first place (although some activists have spent significant taxpayer resources on attempt to ban books that libraries don't even own). And since most school districts require a review by committee before a book is removed from libraries, every member of that review committee has to have a copy of the book.
Which brings us to “labor” or the human cost behind these reviews. And this is really where the costs take off. Think about it: Your taxpayer dollars pay the salary of the employees who are spending some of their time, or much of their time, reading books that have been challenged by just a handful of activists in your district. And every hour they spend reading a book to review, is an hour of other work they are not doing for you.
Let’s start in Texas.
Sign the petition against banned books today!
Back in 2021, Texas State Representative Matt Krause requested that the Texas Education Agency fully review more than 800 books he felt should not be on school library shelves. As you might expect, his book list was mostly targeted at books written for or about minority and marginalized communities, but that is actually immaterial to the larger point here. The point is: how much would it cost?
One school district, just one, Lewisville Independent School District, provided an estimate to the Texas Education Agency that it would take one hundred and fifty-eight hours and more than $3,000 to ban books. (Click to Tweet)
For context: Texas has more than twelve hundred school districts! That means if ALL of them needed about $3,000 to comply with this request, it would end up costing the state $3.6 MILLION dollars to ban books.
It will cost more than $3.6 Million dollars to ban books in Texas. (Click to tweet)
That of course assumes that every single county and charter required the same personnel and resources. Lewisville ISD has about 315,000 people in its county. Of course, the largest school district in Texas is the Houston Independent, which has about 1.5 million people, or around five times as many, in its district. We can reasonably assume it would cost them considerably more.
Which means that $3.6 million dollars in the state of Texas is a low estimate.
That, of course, is based only on one single list provided by one single state representative. When a county falls victim to particularly radical action and actors, or becomes frozen by indecision and debate, the costs quickly skyrocket even more. Take the example of Spring Branch Independent School District in the same state.
A recent attempt to ban the book The Black Friend, on Being a Better White Person ended up costing the district 226 hours of time, divided between sixteen people and cost more than $30,000! (Click to Tweet)
$30,000 just to ban ONE book!
Please consider a $25 donation today!
We'll put 100% of your donations to work fighting against book bans and library closures.
Imagine how expensive state rep Krause’s list of 800 books would get in Spring Branch! Does this seem like money well spent? Is this where you want $30,000 of YOUR tax dollars going?
Florida is another state that is taking on absolutely absurd costs to ban books. And they recently passed HB 1069 which is an example of how vaguely worded and ill defined laws end up costing taxpayers money as local officials toil to figure out how to abide by them.
Part of HB1069 requires that every library digitally account for every single book on their shelves and where they are filed, and upload those lists to a publicly available database. Ostensibly, this is so parents are able to see if there are books on the list that they object to so that they can challenge them for removal. But cataloguing the entire library’s collection is one thing: this also applies to classroom libraries. Which means that schools have to go classroom by classroom and find every single book and digitally catalogue those as well!
Schools and libraries are already woefully understaffed, and the burdensome request of this bill has to be outsourced in most cases. That means school districts have to hire third parties to help them file everything. What’s the cost?
Between $34,000 to $135,000 per library or school to ban books in Florida. Per year. (Click to Tweet)
Every single year, it is going to cost every single library or school- and therefor, you, the taxpayer- an average of $85,000 to catalogue the books on shelves and in classrooms… really just so that extreme political actors can object to some of them and get them banned.
Even if this was only an average cost per district, it would end up costing the state of Florida $5.8 million dollars ANNUALLY to ban books. (Click to Tweet)
But that average number of $85,000 is per school or library according to estimates.
Sign the petition against banned books today!
Of course, Florida is not alone in passing vaguely worded bills that end up costing tax payers millions of dollars as locals try to wrestle with how to apply those laws. North Dakota recently handed down HB1205 and SB2360 which add more layers of censorship to libraries and ban books. And guess what: even a tiny state like North Dakota finds itself overwhelmed by the absolute costs of how to apply these laws.
The North Dakota State Library, one single library, estimated that the costs of re-evaluating its collection to comply with the what they believe is the intention of these loosely worded house bills, would be $3.3 million dollars. That’s $3.3 million dollars for one library in one state, just in labor costs, to comply with laws that want to take books away, not add them! (Click to Tweet)
Is this getting exhausting yet? Do these millions of dollars seem like they are going to a worthwhile cause? Is this what you want your taxpayer money spent on?
One last example: let’s really get into the nitty gritty on this.
Back in March of 2022, Kelly Jensen of Book Riot published an article detailing the average costs of an individual book challenge. This is what it costs to challenge one single book on average.
She used Francis Howell School District in Missouri as the example, however the numbers provided are backed up in presentations given by school districts around the country. Katy ISD released similar numbers when asked about how much an individual challenge costs. And while labor costs are slightly different from one district to another across the country, these average dollar values provide an illustrative point.
For a single committee hearing in Francis Howell SD to consider a book, every member of the committee needs a copy of the book. Trade paperbacks, believe it or not, cost on average of $15.00 now, and the book use din Jensen’s article was more expensive even: it cost the district $20.00 per copy for all seven committee members.
That’s $140 just to get the books to be considered to be added to the library in one school district in Missouri. (Click to tweet)
Then there is the real cost: the time it takes for members of the committee to read and consider that book (Monday’s Not Coming in this example). Jensen lowballs their salaries at $15.00/hour for the sake of the example: but the reality is many of the salaried members of this review board are making quite a bit more. And she only estimates that it takes 2 hours for the board members to read the book. Also very generous, since an average novel takes closer to eight hours of reading time to complete.
However, using Jensen’s charitable estimations, at $15.00 an hour for two hours for 7 committee members plus the cost of the book, we come to $365.00. Except the process is not over: they now need to discuss the book and make a decision based on their reading.
If the talks go long, you can probably expect to add an additional $210 in labor to the challenge, which brings it to $575.00 to challenge the book all in. And again, Jensen wanted to create an illustrative floor: the real costs only go UP from here.
Now, $575 to challenge a book might seem a bit more reasonable after we have been talking in the millions. But remember: this is for ONE book in a state where hundreds are being challenged every year. AND, most districts have a budget on per student spending. In Francis Howell SD, where Jensen set her example, that number is $6,375 per student. So the cost of book challenge is, on the low end, $575. That eats up almost 10% of the school's total per student expenditures. (Click to tweet)
Thats 10% of a school district per student expenditures going into banning one book. (Click to tweet)
Your donations are put to work fighting against book bans and library closures.
These numbers are not inconsequential. They are transformative. Schools are already underfunded, and libraries even more so. They cannot afford to spend hundreds, thousands, millions of dollars on pouring over books to decide whether they should be banned because of the objections of only one, or a very few parents.
Right now, the extreme minority is costing you, the taxpayer, and your students millions of dollars to bow to their wishes and strip books away from shelves. (Click to tweet)
It is not as simple as a parent saying “I want this book taken away from everyone” and it gets done. It costs time. It costs money. (Click to tweet)
Lots of money.
And considering book bans are supported by an absolute minority of the population, it seems more than a little irrational that the smallest population should be costing everyone millions to adhere to their extreme ideologies.
This is absurd. It is irrational. It needs to stop.