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Weekly Address – June 16, 2021

From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.

I learned early in life that when it comes to addressing issues, elected officials have to be honest about their agenda.

For as long as I remember, public service and running for political office have always been a part of my family’s life.

My dad was elected to the state Senate when I was about eight years old. My older brother ran for the same seat, and he served in the legislature in the 1980s.

During that same time, I was first elected mayor of West Memphis. Then, in 2008 I decided to run for the legislature, because I believed I could make a difference.

I thought all of my colleagues shared the same goals – to improve public education, law enforcement, health care and economic development.

If we as a state are going to improve our schools, for example, we cannot achieve any lasting solutions without transparency and accountability.

If we want to increase voter turnout and ensure that the election process is fair and open, we have to face facts.

If we want to eliminate social injustice, we have to be truthful with others and with ourselves.

To be perfectly honest, the legislature failed to enact several measures that would have improved public schools.

That’s because too many lawmakers used education bills to promote their political agenda.

One of the worst example was HB 1231, which would have prohibited public schools from teaching materials from the 1619 project.

Most people in Arkansas have never even heard of the 1619 project. It’s a history of enslaved people and their role in helping to build the United States in pre-colonial days.

The name comes from the fact that 1619 was the first year when slaves were brought to this country, to work on tobacco plantations in Virginia.

That is a historical fact. If we are going to address historical problems of discrimination and prejudice, it’s a fact we have to face honestly.

The bill failed in committee, but unfortunately some other good bills also failed to get out of committee. One example was legislation to create an advisory committee on inclusion and cultural differences, as reflected in textbooks and school curricula.

I’m not a big fan of advisory committees, but in cases like this, they can be productive. People with polar opposite political views are searching for agreement on some difficult issues. You find common ground when you take the time to listen to other people and share viewpoints.

Another good bill that failed in committee would have required high school students to complete a class in civics in order to graduate. I hope it comes up again in a future session.

Another education bill that failed was one I co-sponsored with east Arkansas legislators of both political parties. It would set up a scholarship program for local students to attend ASU.

Money will become available when greyhounds no longer race at Southland, and the track no longer pays purses to the winning greyhounds.

Public schools are not a political arena where candidates try beat their opponents by scoring cheap political points.

Education is the best way to help young people achieve success in life, especially if they come from disadvantaged circumstances.

The book on improving public education is still open, and I promise you there will be another chapter.

From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.


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