Politics

Some Louisvillians are concerned that legislation moving through the General Assembly to allow students to attend the public school closest to their homes rather than their assigned school district would resegregate the public education system in the city.

The “neighborhood schools” bill passed out of the state House of Representatives on Thursday and will soon be considered by the state Senate, which passed a similar version of the measure in previous legislative sessions.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Bratcher says opposition to the measure is overblown.

“All I want to do is allow children to attend the public school nearest their home,” said Bratcher, the House Majority Whip and a Republican from Louisville.

In the 1970s, Louisville began busing school children — sometimes across Jefferson County — in order to help expedite racial desegregation in the public school system.

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.

JCPS Reaction

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.”

WFPL’s Rick Howlett spoke with JCPS director of strategy Jonathan Lowe about the legislation and its potential impact. Listen to their conversation in the player below.

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‘We have segregated neighborhoods’

Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott said she’s concerned that the bill would lead to resegregation of Jefferson County Public Schools.

“We have segregated neighborhoods,” Scott said. “There’s no way that we can send students to their home school and not have segregated schools.”

Scott grew up in a housing project in downtown Louisville and said she benefited from busing.

“I would have never — living in Beecher Terrace — spent time with white students if it was not for busing,” Scott said. “My kids would not have had the opportunity to spend time with immigrants and refugees from other countries. And so that’s one of the reasons I’m supportive of busing is it helps to prepare them for the real world.”

Republicans in the state Senate over the years have passed measures to scrap the busing system, but the Democratic-led House never took up the measure.

But this year Republicans have control of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in state history, breathing new life into long-scuttled policies.

Senate President Robert Stivers predicts that the bill will be well-received in his chamber. He said the measure allows parents to make the choice for their children.

“It gives them more ability to have access and input,” he said. “It reduces travel time for children who choose to do that instead of staying on a bus for 45 or 50 minutes one-way. People are just trying to figure out excuses and reasons to not vote for something or be supportive of it, but in the long run I think it’s good policy and it’ll be well-received in the Senate.”

There’s information on current and proposed JCPS maps here.

WFPL’s Rick Howlett contributed to this story.

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