How Much Does a Book Challenge Cost?: This Week’s Book Censorship News, March 4, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

One of the many reasons book challenges have grown in the last year is that it creates tremendous paperwork and time investment on the behalf of a school district. This, in turn, allows those who challenge to point to inadequacies in how schools are being run because they’ve invested so much time and money into having a book in the facility they believe should not have been there to begin with. It creates a compelling argument for how tax money is misspent, furthering the belief many of these censors have that they should have the right to receive vouchers (on taxpayer money) to send their children to whatever school they wish.

But have we looked at this from the opposite side yet? Just how much money do these challenges steal from schools, which are already underfunded?

Let’s do a little back of envelope math. Note that every figure here, unless otherwise noted, is an estimate. I’m aiming low on all estimates for the sake of simplicity and the sake of as much equity across schools country-wide. We know some states fund their schools better than others.

Francis Howell School District in Missouri has seen a number of challenges this school year, and as part of their reporting process, have noted the costs of procuring each book for the committee to review. Let’s take a challenge of Tiffany D. Jackson’s book Monday’s Not Coming as our challenge example and use the cost of $151 for the committee. That’s the cost of the book, so assuming they spent $20 on each copy, that comes out to 7.55 copies, one for each committee member. For generosity’s sake, we’ll round down to seven committee members.

Each member of the committee for reconsideration needs to read the book in full in order to evaluate and discuss the title. Some of the members of the committee will be administrators, some will be teachers, and others may be community members. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say they each cost $15 an hour for their work (again, averages tell us the administrators and teachers should be making more than that hourly and if they’re salaried, it’s even more tough to quantify). If a book takes two hours to read, at $15 an hour, for seven people, we’ve now sunk $210 into that time alone. Add to the $155 cost for the books, we’re now at $365 for the challenge of a single book.

We haven’t yet gotten to the discussions. Perhaps the discussions will be two hours, too. They are likely to be a lot longer and stretch out over more than one meeting, but again, let’s get as basic as possible. That’s another $210 in costs for time.

Add up the books, the cost to read the books, and the cost to discuss them, and a single book challenge now costs $575. In Missouri, the state caps its per student spending at $6,375. Each single book challenge equates to roughly 9% of total capped spending per student in the state.

You can imagine not only what that means when more than one book is challenged at a school, with real costs that are higher than the above-estimated ones, and and the tremendous cost of paperwork not included.

So indeed, this is a big cost. But it’s a big cost being purposefully created by those who are eager to see the public education system crumble so they can have tax money used to fund private, usually religious, schools and continue harming the most vulnerable members of our society.

This Week’s Call to Action

Stopping this wave of book bans, as well as anti-CRT/SEL movements, is going to take far more than awareness. It requires action. Those who want “parental oversight” are running for and winning spots on their local school and library boards. If you care about student rights and the freedom to read and access information, run for one of these open seats and/or encourages others to do so.

Run for Something is offering a free training on school boards next Wednesday, March 9, at 8 p.m. EST. Register and learn about why this is important and how to get involved in your local school board.

For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you may want to use FOIA to uncover book challenges.

Book Censorship News: March 4, 2022

Note: this week’s list is shorter than normal, and not because of good news. I’ve just been paywalled from so many sources now that I can’t even read what’s going on. As a reminder, paywalls help ensure fake news spreads more easily than facts because the fake stuff is free and abundant.

Two additional stories to read this week include directors who’ve left their public library posts due to challenges with the board: