Newsom knocks red states, says ‘education is under assault’ in DC speech

(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…

(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, 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.”

The governor 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 Newsom includes the highest level of funding for K-12 education in state history at $128.6 billion, which Newsom’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.” 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.

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 Governor and U.S. President Ronald Reagan regarding the Briggs Initiative, Newsom told attendees Wednesday “you can’t catch gay like you can measles.”

“The hell’s going on in this country? Can’t wear a rainbow lanyard … Can’t put a picture of your spouse of the same sex because that could just invite controversy,” Newsom said. “That’s what stands today for education reform.”

The governor’s comments regarding Florida’s controversial education bill came days after Newsom began airing a campaign ad in Florida suggesting “freedom is under attack in your state.” Gov. Ron DeSantis shot back after the commercial aired, remarking that he’s seen “many more” California license plates in Florida in recent years in response to Newsom’s call for Floridians to move to the “free state of California.”

Shortly after Newsom was presented with the award, California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson released a statement blasting the governor’s remarks, saying she “can’t think of anyone less deserving of an award in education than Gavin Newsom as California students are falling behind thanks to his failed policies.”

“This governor is more concerned with lecturing red states, praising his own laughable accomplishments and dreaming about life inside the White House than he is with fixing the mess he created in California schools,” Patterson said.

Newsom will return to California on Friday and 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 D.C., according to his office.