Republican lawmakers criticize JCPS diversity plan
Jefferson County Public Schools’ interim superintendent got an earful Monday from Republican lawmakers who don’t like how the state’s largest school district assigns students to schools based on factors broader than the location of their home.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools’ interim superintendent got an earful Monday from Republican lawmakers who don’t like how the state’s largest school district assigns students to schools based on factors broader than the location of their home, and who think the district spends too much time worrying about diversity in schools at the expense of educational quality.
The comments came during a special meeting of the General Assembly’s interim joint committee on education held at Valley High School in southwest Louisville.
“We’re failing these kids. We are failing them big time … And we’ve got to get off all this political correctness sometimes and get down to what’s best for these kids … And I am absolutely convinced it’s not riding around in a school bus half the day,” said Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, whose district straddles Jefferson and Bullitt counties.
Earlier this year the legislature, newly under the control of Republicans, considered a bill that would have forced JCPS to allow students to attend the school closest to their home, or the next closest in the case of capacity problems.
Lawmakers decided not to move forward with the so-called “neighborhood schools” bill and instead to delve deeper into how JCPS assigns students, leading to Monday’s meeting, said Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican of Bowling Green and chairman of the education committee.
Seum, the highest ranking lawmaker at the meeting, said he isn’t sure whether Republicans will renew the push for a neighborhood schools bill in next year’s legislative session.
“We’re going to take a hard look at it,” Seum said in an interview following the meeting.
But Seum added that he wants to give JCPS interim Superintendent Marty Pollio, the former principal of Doss High School, “a chance” to modify the district’s assignment plan.
Pollio said the district at the beginning of a 12- to 18-month process to update the assignment plan, which was last overhauled in 2007.
Using U.S. Census data, JCPS assigns elementary schools based on a formula meant to ensure diversity in household income, adult educational attainment and race.
The assignment factors in the preferences of parents, with 90 percent of those applying during the annual application period getting their first choice of school, according to the district.
But unlike a typical district, school assignments are not dictated by home address – a shortcoming that has real estate agents pushing homebuyers to Oldham and Shelby counties to avoid the uncertainty in where their children will go to school, said Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican who represents eastern Jefferson County.
But even some conservatives aren’t in favor of the state asserting control over policies that are traditionally the purview of locally elected school boards.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican who also represents eastern Jefferson County, said she “really struggled” with the neighborhood schools bill and that many of her constituents value the parental choices JCPS’ plan affords.
“They felt as if, because they had that choice component, they could choose where to go – where that student, where their child, might fit best,” she said.
Raque Adams said school assignment is best left to school boards.
“It’s not our (lawmakers’) responsibility to tell you how to do that,” she said.