Arkansas House Committee Does Not Advance Bill Banning Teaching Of 'The 1619 Project'

Feb 9, 2021

Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, presents his bill to the House Education Committee
Credit Arkansas House

An Arkansas House committee declined to advance a bill Tuesday that would have banned the teaching of the 1619 Project in K-12 schools, with some lawmakers citing concerns on governmental overreach.

By a voice vote, the House Education Committee did not pass House Bill 1231, which would have cut funding for public schools, public school districts or open-enrollment charter schools that taught curriculum centered on the 1619 Project.

The project, first published by The New York Times Magazine, is a series of written essays, photo-essays, poetry and other mediums that, according to its website, seeks to "reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."

Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, is the bill’s sponsor. Speaking to the committee, he cited concerns over inaccuracies and the way the project frames history in a way that opposes how it's taught now.  

"We all have different perspectives that we have and that’s one of the arguments that’s made for the 1619 Project is it’s a different perspective. Well that’s fine. But in presenting different perspectives, we don’t just say that the other perspectives are wrong. We don’t just wipe out history," Lowery said.

He argued the bill would not stop schools from teaching Black history or stop them from teaching about the year 1619.

"I have been very clear and very specific in saying that I believe that we would be committing educational malpractice if we did not teach Black history, if we did not talk about the contributions of African-Americans in the fabric of America," Lowery said.

Both Democrats and Republican lawmakers on the committee spoke on issues they had with the bill. Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, voiced her concerns on the legislature beginning to “list things that our schools cannot teach and punish them for doing so.”

"If problems arise because of what’s being taught in our schools, our parents, our school boards, our teachers are the appropriate people to come in and make those corrections. That’s what’s appropriate. That’s what’s right. For those reasons, I will be voting no on this bill," Fite said.

This is not the first incident of a lawmaker representing Arkansas attempting to ban the teaching of the 1619 project. Last July, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill that would defund the teaching of the 1619 project on a nationwide basis. That bill is also called the “Saving American History Act.”

Rep. Reginald Murdock, R-Marianna, said what Lowery was doing with his bill was "censuring" educators in the state. 

"You’re sitting at the end of the table. You have an opinion that you’re sharing with us on a thesis and you’re teaching. You’re trying to teach. Though your facts and accuracies are in question, and I won’t spend time questioning that, but the point is that you’re taking away that ability from those who have been trained to do it," Murdock said.

Another concern, raised by Republican Rep. Gayla McKenzie of Gravette, was how the state would enforce the ban. Lowery admitted that the consequence of the reduction in funding would "probably be very difficult to enforce."

Two people spoke for the bill, while nine, including Education Secretary Johnny Key, spoke against it. Key said the department already has established a comprehensive process for developing and approving academic standards and courses and said the decision to adopt curriculum is "best left to the local elected boards and the administrators and educators."

The committee’s decision to not advance the bill by a voice vote, effectively kills its chances of becoming a law, unless it were to be voted again by the same committee.