FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens was among two people who testified Thursday against a bill calling for neighborhood schools.

House Bill 151, which now moves on to the full House, would force major changes as to how JCPS assigns its students. It is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R- Louisville. 

Here are portions of what Hargens told lawmakers:

"Because this legislation will have a significant impact on our school district, we have met and communicated with Rep. Bratcher on numerous occasions over the past month, sharing information, and offering suggestions," she said. "I appreciate the openness with which Rep. Bratcher has engaged with us, and listened to our concerns. It appears that several of the issues we raised have been addressed in part with this committee substitute. Thank you, Rep.e Bratcher. We look forward to continue to work with you on this and other important issues."

Hargens then gave lawmakers some context, telling them that JCPS is the 28th largest school district in the country with 101,000 students, and over 17,000 employees, including 6,600 teachers working in 172 schools.

She went on to explain the district's student assignment plan.

"House Bill 151 would dramatically alter the JCPS student assignment plan," she said. "While we can always do better, our current student assignment plan offers parents a high degree of choice, and the choices of a good majority of parents are accommodated under the JCPS plan."

She added that the district's plan includes a "wide array of magnet schools and programs, and additional choices at the elementary school level."

"For elementary schools, parents can apply to send their child to a magnet school; their resides school, which is the schools whose attendance area includes the family’s address; or one of five to eight schools in a cluster of schools," Hargens said.

During the initial application period for the 2016-17 school year, Hargens said:

  • 90 percent of kindergarteners received their first choice of cluster schools
  • 49 percent parents of kindergarteners chose a school other than their resides school as their first choice
  • Of parents of kindergarteners who chose their resides school as their first choice, 73 percent were assigned to their resides school

She also added that in 2016, 91.6 percent of JCPS parents reported being satisfied with their child’s school. 

"We have a high degree of school choice, and a high degree of parental satisfaction," Hargens said.

She added: "When thinking about big changes, it is valuable to reflect upon the values and principles that we, as a community and as a school district, have identified to guide our thoughts and our actions."

The JCPS student assignment plan is based on six guiding principles -- quality, predictability, stability, choice, diversity and equity.

"These values can sometimes be in tension with one another, and we work to try to balance each of them, while listening to families and trying to provide them with school options based on their idea about what is best for their children," Hargens said.

"House Bill 151 would increase predictability and stability for families, but decrease choice, equity, and diversity," she said. "As a result, we believe that the bill would have a negative impact on student learning and widening of achievement gaps."

Hargens said the consequence of HB 151 would be "an increase in the number of JCPS schools that have high concentrations of students living in poverty."

"JCPS already has a high number of high-poverty schools. 39 of the 149 elementary, middle and high schools, or about a quarter of our schools, have over 80% low-income students. HB 151 would make the number of schools even bigger," she said.

"Poverty creates multiple, significant barriers to student learning, which we fight to overcome every day," Hargens said. "High concentrations of student in poverty dramatically increase the difficulty for teachers to succeed with their students."

With the passage of HB 151, Hargens said to expect "achievement gaps based on race and income to widen, the number of priority schools in JCPS to increase and the overall level of student achievement to decrease."

"Finally, I would like to say that there are many issues where a 'one-size-fits-all' solution creates problems at the local level," she said. "Allowing locally elected board members make decisions permits the voices and values of a community to be taken into account in a more meaningful way."

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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