By DJ McGuire
To date, Virginia has managed to avoid the last mess of the culture war. Call it the Battle of Don’t Say Gay, if you will.
Florida and Alabama are going all-in, making it unlikely that the Commonwealth will stay out for good, especially once our own legislature runs for office in new, unfamiliar districts next year. Some of the opponents will likely use arguments provided by Kate Cohen in The Washington Post.
Alabama’s HB 322 states that teachers “shall not engage in classroom discussions…regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not age-appropriate” .
I don’t know what’s appropriate for what age – it’s not like I’m a qualified educator or anything – so to avoid offending equally inexperienced parents, teachers in Alabama should probably refrain from all allusions to heterosexuality, including references to their husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, upcoming weddings or – God forbid – expected babies.
As for the class books, well, you might be wondering what exactly is the heterosexual equivalent of “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the cisgender equivalent of “Call Me Max”?
The answer is, everything. These books are just tiny specks in the sea of cultural messages that surround us, including all the children’s books that feature girls and boys, princes and princesses, moms and dads. I’m looking at you, mom and dad Ingalls; Marmee and M. March; Mr. and Mrs. Quimby, Darling and Banks.
Whatever one thinks of these arguments (and I admit I am sympathetic), it is clear that the first point to be discussed when a law like this is enacted becomes: “What is OK and what is not? From there, questions of enforcement mechanisms and procedures for accused educators are sure to follow. Combine that with what I’m sure will be a strong insistence among proponents of this stuff for vigorous enforcement and it’s pretty clear that local school districts will have only one way to respond to this – increase the administrative staff.
In other words, “Don’t Say Gay” is another unfunded mandate pushed on localities, when the cost of this fanaticism-driven idea will likely run into the millions. To get an idea of how much, I use the example of my home town of Suffolk.
In terms of population and student enrolment, Suffolk is somewhat above the median. We are not compact, however; Suffolk includes all that was Nansemond County before the consolidation of Great Hampton Roads. In effect, Suffolk is an outer suburban – or exurban – jurisdiction.
Suffolk has 11 elementary schools, five middle schools and three high schools. I guess all will need at least one staff member fully dedicated to overseeing this. I call them compliance officers, for lack of a better term. I also assume a manager for each of the three levels and a general supervisor. I also assume that these 23 staff will be paid at a level equal to that of a school trustee (which averages just under $73,000 in salary and over $40,000 in benefits in Suffolk, based on school budget data).
Add it all up and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would cost Suffolk ratepayers over $2.3m a year, and given the very rough estimate here, it could be as much as $4.7m. (or as low as $1.2 million). This would require a 1% to 3% increase in local property taxes here. If your county is more rural than Suffolk, you can probably expect a lower cost figure but a higher relative tax rise; the reverse is likely true for more urban jurisdictions.
Using a cost-per-student measure (Suffolk has just over 14,000 enrolments), the overall cost to the Commonwealth would be $105-422 million.
So if (when?) this issue finally crashes into Virginia’s political discourse, be sure to ask yourself: How much would you pay for “Don’t Say Gay”?
DJ McGuire is a Suffolk resident, adjunct economics teacher at Tidewater Community College, cost estimator and musician. Follow him on Twitter at @deejaymcguire.