Dozens question neighborhood schools bill at Louisville meeting

02/25/2017 07:09 PM

LOUISVILLE — House Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher faced a number of skeptics Saturday on his plan that would allow parents to send their children to the nearest school, a significant shift in the state’s largest school district.

Bratcher, R-Louisville, was joined by Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, and Louisville Metro Council members Robin Engel and Stuart Benson at a Café LOUIE meeting at Fern Creek Library.

Much of the discussion at the informal gathering revolved around legislative proposals filed by Bratcher, particularly House Bill 151. That legislation would allow children to attend schools nearest their homes starting in the 2019-20 school year.

HB 151 is aimed at Jefferson County, where students are bused to different schools. That system began in the 1970s under a U.S. Supreme Court order to desegregate the school system and has continued despite that order sunsetting in 2000.

Some at Saturday’s meeting said they were concerned that black students could be negatively affected if HB 151 became law while others, like Rob Mattheu, said they feared that HB 151 would hurt schools’ magnet programs.

“The biggest problem is that the wording of the bill does not protect magnet programs, which are programs inside schools that would be considered neighborhood schools under this bill,” Mattheu told Spectrum News after the event.

“Mr. Bratcher spoke to the fact that if there was room in those schools, they could have a magnet program. The problem with that is that … there’s no way a school can predict year-to-year how many students will be able to attend that magnet program because they don’t know how full the school’s going to be, and some of these programs cost a lot of money.”

Bratcher, who said he experienced busing during his youth in Louisville, said HB 151 exempts magnet schools but is silent on magnet programs.

He said he had language that would have added protections for magnet programs, but that would have imperiled the bill’s original concept “because they could make a magnet school at every school.”

Bratcher said the Supreme Court’s decision to lift the desegregation order in 2000 came after the high court was satisfied with the county schools’ racial compositions.

“Fern Creek doesn’t even have busing,” he said. “Why? Because the neighborhoods are … desegregated enough.”

McGarvey countered that he didn’t think HB 151 would be good for JCPS, adding that true neighborhood schools can’t be achieved given the volume of students and schools’ capacities in the system.

HB 151 represents government overreach in the local school system, he said.

“As you’re seeing right now we can’t clearly identify all of the ways in which House Bill 151 will impact our public schools,” McGarvey said. “… We are taking a school system that is a good school system with an 81 percent market share and we are putting that at risk.”

HB 151, which cleared the House on a 59-37 vote Thursday, might attract some political opposition to Bratcher in the 2018 election cycle. Mattheu said he would support anyone running against the Louisville Republican when he’s up for re-election.

But Bratcher said he was unconcerned with any political fallout he might face because of HB 151, saying for every negative comment he’s received on the legislation, 50 have been supportive. He called HB 151 “the will of the people.”

“I’ve had tough elections before,” he told reporters after the event.


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