At a meeting of the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity Wednesday, representatives from the Kentucky Chamber discussed issues and solutions regarding racial inequality in the Commonwealth.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts told the group the state’s largest business organization has pulled together leading experts from different sectors from across the state to work toward solutions in the areas of education, criminal justice, and economic empowerment.
Fact based research and data was the central focus, she said, of the Kentucky Chamber’s “Achieving Equity to Build a Stronger Kentucky” report released in 2020 to offer long and short-term solutions to make aggressive progress to address racial inequality.
Ray Daniels, owner of Equity Solutions Group, noted the report shows alarming trends in education with massive gaps between white and Black students in terms of preparedness for life after high school as well as proficiency in all subjects and at all levels.
To address these issues, Daniels pointed to solutions suggested in the Chamber’s report including more and better data being shared with groups frequently, better awareness of gaps in educational opportunity, diversity in teaching workforce, expanded access dual credit courses, improve accessibility of courses, making FAFSA a requirement for high school graduation, and more.
On the criminal justice front, Watts stated Black Kentuckians make up more than 20% of state’s prison population despite being only 8.5% of Kentucky’s overall population and there are disproportionate outcomes at all levels of the state’s criminal justice system.
In terms of solutions for Kentucky’s criminal justice system, Watts said the Chamber suggests that racial impact statements are required on legislation, reforms are made to the state’s bail system, reclassifying minor drug charges to be misdemeanors, expanded access to expungement, ensuring all people leaving criminal justice system have a photo ID, access to KEES money for those who are formally incarcerated, and more.
Watts and Daniels also discussed higher unemployment rates of Black Kentuckians and the struggles faced by individuals in accessing capital and finding economic opportunity which can be helped by annual reports from post-secondary institutions and other groups to keep track of progress or issues in that area as well as the creation of a state entrepreneurship program to spur innovation and ensure success for minority owned businesses, annual reports on minor.
Daniels emphasized it is not solely up to policymakers to solve these issues but the business community must step up as well. Along with the report and other work to address racial inequality, Daniels told the commission that the Kentucky Chamber Foundation is starting a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center and is in the process of hiring an executive director for that role and added the organization is working on many other fronts.
Addressing these huge issues and gaps facing Kentucky, Daniels said, helps all Kentuckians as it reduced poverty, broadens the tax base, and much more.