Education

A number of bills in Frankfort this year focus on changing the way Louisville operates, but one is drawing more attention than the others.

House Bill 151 would re-institute neighborhood schools in the state, meaning students would have the right under state law to attend the public school closest to their home.

In Jefferson County, the state’s largest school district, that could override decades of work to integrate schools – through busing and other school assignment policies. Those policies have drawn national attention, of course, including this Atlantic piece from 2015 that explored the decades-long debate over busing here.

Last week, our own Ryland Barton explored the tension over the proposed bill, which has passed the state House and awaits Senate consideration:

Officials at Jefferson County Public Schools are raising concerns about the effect the measure would have on diversity and school choice within the state’s largest school district, predicting that the legislation would have “far-reaching impact with significant unintended consequences, creating serious disruptions for JCPS families.”

And last weekend, Toni Konz and Chris Otts of WDRB News did a deep dive into the debate over the bill. They found that even though its intent is to bring back neighborhood schools, that still wouldn’t be an option for many students:

An analysis by the JCPS transportation department shows the wide-ranging consequences of HB 151: only about half of the current high school students, about 38 percent of middle school students and about 34 percent of elementary school students live close enough to their current school that they would have the right to attend it under the proposed law.

Because Jefferson County remains largely segregated in housing based on race and incomes, district officials say the policy would greatly reduce diversity in schools.

But beyond that, the bill could shake-up the district’s schools and attendance patterns in ways that are less obvious.

Some schools would be swamped with kids based on proximity, while other schools – even in older, built-out areas – might be candidates for closure or wholesale reinvention because they would have a tiny number of kids to accommodate under HB 151.

I talked with Konz and Otts about the story on Monday. Listen to the conversation in the audio player above.

Stephen George is Executive Editor of Louisville Public Media.