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Louisville Mayor Urges Kentucky Lawmakers to Slow Down on K-12 Bills

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is asking state legislators to slow down on two Republican-backed education bills he says will negatively impact students in his city.  

Fischer posted a Facebook video taking on two pieces of legislation—House Bill 151, known as the neighborhood schools bill, and House Bill 520, which would allow charter schools in the state. Both measures have already passed out of the House.

Should it pass, the neighborhood schools bill would require districts to enroll students in the school nearest to their homes. The bill has exceptions for special schools, such as magnet schools and others with entrance requirements, and also proposes that no student be displaced to make room for another. 

Supporters argue that the bill will allow more parental choice. But opponents argue that the bill threatens to roll back decades of desegregation efforts in the Jefferson County school district, which includes the city of Louisville. The district has been perhaps the most stalwart in the country in its decades-long efforts to keep its schools integrated

It currently uses a complex method in student assignments to ensure that schools are racially- and socio-economically diverse. The district, with 100,000 students, is the largest in the state.

More than 40 percent of families in Louisville send their children to schools that are not neighborhood schools, Fischer said in the Facebook video.  The bill would have unintended consequences, he said, by restricting school choice, creating schools of concentrated poverty, and forcing students to attend schools that may not be the best fit for them. There is also the question of the millions of dollars that would be needed to create true neighborhood schools would come from, he said.

(See Education Week's special report, "Brown at 60" on the anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education and Louisville's desegregation program. The Washington Post's Emma Brown also has an in-depth look at how the bill could affect Louisville's desegregation program.)

According to WDRB, Jefferson County schools Superintendent Donna Hargens testified against the neighborhood schools bill. While Hargens said neighborhood schools will likely give families more stability, she argued that it would "decrease choice, equity and diversity," according to the station.

Fischer said student assignment policy in Louisville should be left to local education and city officials. 

"Improving JCPS is a complicated topic that is best addressed by Louisvillians," he said.  "Let's take the time to do this right."

Will Kentucky Finally Get a Charter School Law?

The charter school bill is expected to pass the state Senate this week and has the support of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. It will allow private organizations and members of the community to apply to open charter schools. While for-profit organizations can't apply to open a charter school—the charter school's board of directors can contract with the for-profit group to operate the school, according to the Associated Press.

The charter bill as proposed would allow the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, as well as local school districts, to be charter authorizers. Their decisions could be reversed by the state, the AP reported.

Fischer said he supports charters that would help students "who need the most support" and that would be based on models of charter schools that have demonstrated strong results in the 43 other states that already allow them. 

The current bill, he said, has numerous challenges that must be addressed, including questions about the funding and whether funding for charter schools will negatively impact existing schools. He also raised concerns about the use of non-certified teachers and allowing "corporations to profit from our tax dollars and our children through for profit schools."

Bevin has criticized those who have opposed the charter bill.

"The argument that this is somehow a threat to the public education system is a lie. It is a scare tactic, it is meant to preserve the statute quo," the AP quoted Bevin as saying.  "This is not a threat to anything except failure."

While the school board in Louisville has criticized both bills, the district is arguing from a weakened position.  The district was recently placed under a state management audit after a limited review found numerous financial and administrative issues. A few days after the announcement of the audit, several parents rallied to call for Superintendent Hargens' resignation.

Fischer urged residents who are affected to call their state representatives. 

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