Anti-Equity Bills Narrowly Avoided

Students in Classroom

Arkansas schools are places where children and young people can learn and grow, developing the critical thinking skills and gaining the knowledge that will guide them through adulthood. We’re thankful that Arkansas lawmakers adjourned their special session this week without taking up harmful legislation that would have undermined that objective.

Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Trent Garner and House Bill 1011 by Rep. Mark Lowery, both of which targeted the way schools teach our nation’s history of racial oppression, would have been detrimental to the children and young people of our state. These proposals are likely to surface again. We hope lawmakers will continue to reject bills like this, and any other legislation that would discourage teaching the truth about our nation’s and state’s historical and ongoing racism.

Garner’s SB 12, “to Prohibit the Propagation of Divisive Concepts in Certain Public Entities,” would have added schools to the existing list of state entities banned from teaching so-called “divisive concepts.” It would have created a procedure to file claims against government entities, including schools, that are perceived to have done so.

Lowery’s HB 1011 would have banned curricula in public schools that might make “any race or ethnicity… feel guilt or shame,” among other requirements. It would add a parental right and procedure to review such materials and require schools to report to the state Board of Education if they violate the rules outlined in the bill.

These proposals, of course, are the result of a national reckoning with our nation’s history and current practice of racial injustice and oppression of people based on their race, ethnicity, or other immutable characteristics. We understand that facing this truth is painful. But it is critical for Arkansans, including children, to understand and accept our shared history. That is the only way we can move forward and rectify those wrongs, creating an equitable state and country where all people thrive. Ignoring our history and current reality under the guise of avoiding “divisive concepts” and “guilt or shame” will only cause further harm.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families applauds the Arkansas General Assembly for refusing to consider these proposals during its special session this week. We hope lawmakers will continue to reject similar efforts. To ensure that all children and families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and successful lives and realize their full potential, the state should do more to promote policies that seek to improve racial equity and close gaps in opportunities and outcomes for Black and Brown children.