A controversial neighborhood schools bill making its way through the General Assembly would be limited to Louisville elementary schools under a new proposal.
House Bill 151, sponsored by Louisville Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher, would allow students to attend the school closest to their homes rather than schools in their designated district.
Opponents to the bill say it could amount to the end of Jefferson County Public Schools’ busing program, which attempts to combat segregation by interspersing students from different parts of the county.
Louisville Republican Sen. Dan Seum wants to amend the measure to allow JCPS to continue busing middle and high school students but remove elementary school students from the program.
“These are babies, these are 6-year-olds who are sitting on a bus two hours a day,” Seum said. “I have never figured out how you take an at-risk child and stick him on a school bus two hours a day and somehow you get a better educated kid.”
In the 1970s, Louisville began busing school children — sometimes across Jefferson County — in order to help expedite racial desegregation in the public school system.
A series of court decisions have upheld and tweaked the busing system, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that there is a compelling governmental interest in maintaining diversity in public schools.
The legislation would allow children to enroll in schools nearest to their home, except if that school is a magnet school. Though Bratcher’s bill would be effective statewide, it would be most acutely felt in Jefferson County.
Donna Hargens, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, said that 27,248 elementary students — 66 percent of the elementary population — would be reassigned if Seum’s bill passes.
Democrats gathered in the state capitol to voice opposition to the bill on Monday, saying it would exacerbate racial segregation.
“I think in some idyllic situation someone believes that if we can go back to the old days that there’s something nice about that,” said Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal. “Well let me tell you something, I remember the old days, going back to the old days, I resist going back to the old days.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Greater Louisville, Inc. have come out against the bill.
The legislation is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.