Legislative Wrap-Up: Solving the Wrong Problems
In 2008, I decided to run for state office and seek a seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives. If you know me, you know I'm no stranger to politics. My father was an Arkansas lawmaker for many years before me, and I had served my city as mayor of West Memphis from 1987 to 1994.
After more than a decade in the private sector, I felt that I could give my community and my state a public servant within the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation. I went to Little Rock to make Arkansas a better place to live, learn and work for all Arkansans. Like every state, we have our fair share of problems. And I believe it to be our duty, as state lawmakers and leaders, to be honest about those problems and work toward solving them, or at the very least, begin to chip away at them.
During the regular session of the 93rd General Assembly, we had the chance to chip away at some of our most glaring problems. Problems like consistently poor voter turnout, weak standing in the ranks of public education, and rising violent crime rates. Efforts to pass meaningful legislation to address these concerns were stifled; instead, we added laws to our books that perpetuate these problems.
Education: Among the Worst
Depending on where you look, Arkansas continues to rank anywhere from 41st to 45th in the nation in public education. Providing Arkansas students with the opportunity to receive a quality education has been a priority of mine since I first took office. But the legislature's majority made that difficult over the last four months.
SB389 gave parents of students in public school the right to keep their child out of sex education classes. It also grants parents the ability to review school material before lessons are taught in class.
What sort of precedence does that set? How long before the legislature grants parents the opportunity to direct public school curriculum based on their opinions? It doesn't help that Arkansas also ranks first in the country in teen pregnancy. Sex education is not the problem.
SB680 (Act 904) created a tax credit for eligible contributions toward scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. Unlike a voucher program that would divert tax dollars toward private institutions and away from public schools, this bill creates a credit for "philanthropic investments."
There were several bad education-related bills filed that fortunately were not advanced. They do, however, demonstrate the priorities of some in the legislature. HB1231, for example, would have prohibited schools from using the 1619 Project in curriculum. The 1619 Project, which New York Times journalists wrote to recognize the role of slavery and African American people in the nation's history. HB1218 would have prohibited schools from teaching that any American institutions have ever been racist. Another similar bill would have outlawed gender or race-related educational programs, school clubs, or projects.
Good bills that failed to gain any traction were SB707, which would have established a Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee to support anti-bias education, and SB391, which would have required high school students to take civics education. Inclusive education and civics got the ax.
I introduced an education-related bill in April, but eventually pulled it. SB661 would have established a scholarship program for students here in Crittenden County. The measure would have leveraged casino revenues set aside for greyhound purses following the end of greyhound racing at Southland.
The book isn’t closed on that piece of legislation, as I plan to continue to fight for opportunities for higher education for the students in my district.