Education Politics

Louisville’s practice of busing students around the city to try and create more diverse schools is under fire again as Kentucky education officials consider whether to take over management of the district.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ Student Assignment Plan lets students apply to groups of schools based on their address. In a massive state audit of JCPS released last week, interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis said the Student Assignment Plan negatively impacts minority students and that it “serves some, but not all students.”

“The guiding principles of the JCPS Student Assignment Plan are choice, quality, diversity, predictability, stability and equity. Based on interviews, choice and diversity are championed above the other principles,” Lewis wrote.

The audit was the result of a 14-month investigation that also asserted the district inadequately manages instruction of students, under-reports restraint and seclusion of students and places non-certified instructors in positions that required certification, among other findings.

Interim commissioner Lewis recommended the state take over the management of the district and impose a corrective action plan. The Kentucky Board of Education will consider his request next month.

As for busing, the audit recommended that the district create a task force to review the Student Assignment Plan. The district already has such a committee that has been meeting since the fall, according to JCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin.

“That committee has completed a review of how the district’s plan works and evaluated other districts’ plans for best practices,” Brislin said in a statement.

“Our next step is to seek community input through surveys and forums in the fall, before coming back with recommendations the following spring, with an ultimate goal of having the new plan in place for the 2020/2021 school year.”

Busing

Louisville has had versions of the busing policy since 1975 when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the city to begin busing students to integrate largely white schools in the suburbs and largely black ones in the city.

Then in 2007, the high court ruled that cities like Louisville can no longer use student race as the sole factor in school assignment.

In the wake of that decision, Louisville began using a different system that mixed students based on the demographics of their neighborhoods — percentage of minority residents, education level of adults and household income.

Teddy Gordon, who argued against Louisville’s busing system before the Supreme Court in 2007, said the city’s system didn’t really change after the ruling and that the district should focus on performance, not diversity.

“It was for diversity only, it was not for improving educational outcome. Student proficiency should be the first priority of a public school system whether they’re black, white, green or purple,” Gordon said.

Some Republicans in the Kentucky legislature have pushed for a “neighborhood schools” law that would supersede Louisville’s busing policy.

A bill that failed to pass last year would give priority school assignments to students who live closest to schools. That flies in the face of how Louisville makes those assignments now.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.