A Republican push to return to neighborhood schools in Louisville and its surrounding suburbs — an effort that would have dismantled one of the nation’s leading desegregation efforts — appears to have failed, at least for now.
The GOP-led Kentucky House easily passed House Bill 151, which would have required school districts to allow children to attend the school closest to their home. The measure applied to the whole state but mainly targeted the Jefferson County school system, which encompasses Louisville.
But with the end of the legislative session fast approaching and a vote required by Wednesday night, the Senate had yet to hold a hearing on the measure. A key Senate leader and the bill’s sponsor both indicated that it will not pass this year.
Sen. Dan Seum (R), a proponent of the neighborhood schools bill, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he and his colleagues had run out of time to pass it — in part because of the time and energy they have devoted to passing legislation to allow charter schools in the state. Seum said he believed passing the charter-schools bill was a more important priority, but pledged to continue working on neighborhood schools in the future.
“We’re going to tackle this problem. It’s not going to go away,” he said.
Seum said in his view, Jefferson County’s school assignment plan has failed. Only 30 percent of black students can read on grade level, he said, and only 60 percent of white students.
He said he expected the Senate education committee to convene in Jefferson County over the summer to find out “why, after spending all these millions and billions of dollars, we have failing schools.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R), did not respond to a request for comment. But he released a statement to WDRB, Louisville’s Fox television affiliate.
We passed HB151 overwhelmingly in the House this year and it is disappointing the Senate did not have enough time to address this timely issue. I look forward to further study and investigation into the JCPS Student Assignment plan by the Joint Education Committee during the 2017 Interim.
The bill would have effectively ended a longstanding effort to promote school diversity in Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County, where desegregation efforts have survived Ku Klux Klan demonstrations and a defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court. Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and national expert on school integration, said it was “mind boggling” that state lawmakers would consider undoing a program that had proven to be politically popular and that — after starting with the mandatory busing in the 1970s — now relies on magnet programs and parent choice to achieve voluntary integration.
The measure drew fierce opposition from Democrats and many leaders of Jefferson County, including its elected school board, who accused the GOP majority in the state legislature of overreaching into local affairs. Rep. Attica Scott (D), who represents part of the County, praised “the students, parents, teachers, community folks, and administration for organizing the resistance against this divisive bill. Kentuckians do not want to see our schools become resegregated.”
Donna Hargens, superintendent of Jefferson schools, said in a statement that school system officials would review the student assignment plan in the coming months and recommend changes to improve it.