House Bill 151 or the “neighborhood schools bill” was introduced by the Kentucky House of Representatives last month. This bill would allow for students who live closest to a certain school to have priority over any other applicants. At face value the bill looks alright, but when you consider that 51.1% of Louisville’s residents are racially segregated, this bill would essentially segregate the public school system again. Currently, JCPS is one of the most integrated school districts in the nation. House Bill 151 would completely destroy this integration. Not only this, but the bill would also mean that students in the lowest socioeconomic classes would most likely go to the worst performing schools with the fewest resources to help them succeed.
JCPS would have been the district most affected by this bill, because Louisville is more segregated than anywhere else in the state, and JCPS still buses students to other schools in order to provide them a greater opportunity for a successful education. There are multiple scenarios in which this bill could cause trouble and hardships for students, including those that already attend a school close to their home. If a school fills up with students from its surrounding neighborhoods and can’t accommodate all of them, the remaining kids will have to be sent to the next closest school, no matter how convenient it is for them. Additionally, facilities with a low population of school-aged children in the surrounding area will be under utilized while other schools are at full capacity.
Furthermore, diversity in the classroom benefits students of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, gender identities and sexualities. Being exposed to different types of people prepares students for entering a diverse workforce and helps broaden their perspectives and understand social injustice. A common misconception is that white students don’t perform as well in majority-minority schools, but a study from The National Assessment of Educational Progress has proven this to be untrue.
Although the bill provides specific protections for all magnet schools and traditional schools, this bill may end certain magnet programs within JCPS. For example, Atherton has an International Baccalaureate (IB) program that students can apply to in order to take a more rigorous course load. If HB 151 were to pass, Atherton could fill up with students from the surrounding neighborhoods without taking any applicants for the IB program, effectively ending it. The same thing applies to Meyzeek Middle’s Math Science Technology magnet and Ballard High School’s CMA magnet. This would be detrimental to these schools, their test scores and the opportunity for more focused and challenging work in the public school system.
Some arguments in support of this bill were that a closer commute would make parents more involved, and that it would be more convenient. However, it’s not clear that this would make parents more involved, especially in the schools where they are most needed. In schools where the majority population is in a low socioeconomic class, parents most likely work longer hours, may not have adequate transportation, or may be exhausted from working more than one job, which explains the lack of participation in their child’s school. Although this system may be more convenient, is convenience truly worth more than diversity, magnet programs, and equal usage of facilities?
In conclusion, this bill would have hurt JCPS schools in many different ways, impacting multiple facets of the system. Thankfully, the bill only passed in the House to die last week in the Senate.