Time Running Short, Neighborhood Schools Bill Still Awaits Hearing

Mar 10, 2017

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A controversial bill that would change the way local school districts assign students to schools is running out of time as lawmakers close in on the final four working days of the General Assembly.

The bill would give priority to students who live closest to schools — and would likely mean the end of Louisville’s anti-segregation program designed to mingle students from different races, backgrounds and parts of town in the same schools.

The measure passed the state House of Representatives two weeks ago, but it hasn’t yet had a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, which is the next step in the legislative process.

Bowling Green Republican Sen. Mike Wilson, chair of the Education Committee, directed questions about the legislation to Louisville Sen. Dan Seum, who has proposed similar measures in the past.

“Sen. Dan Seum from Louisville is taking the lead on that, and I know he’s been having meetings,” Wilson said Thursday. “And so I’m awaiting word from him to either put it on the agenda or not. So that’s totally up to him.”

Seum could not be reached for a comment on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Seum proposed an amendment that would limit the legislation to elementary schools in Louisville, saying that the city’s youngest students should be exempted from long bus rides.

“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,” Seum said.

The state Senate has approved neighborhood schools bills twice in recent years, though the legislation was never taken up by the House, which was, until this year, controlled by Democrats for nearly a century.

Criticism in Louisville

Louisville began its anti-segregation busing program in the 1970s. A series of court decisions have upheld and tweaked the busing system in the decades since, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that there is a compelling governmental interest in maintaining diversity in public schools.

The neighborhood schools program has drawn major pushback from some Louisville residents, who say it would effectively re-segregate the city’s public schools.

“I think it’s a very unwise and reckless bill,” said Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville. “I think it’s a retreat to the past. I think it serves nothing in terms of what we’ve invested in our system going forward.”

When asked about the bill’s uncertain trajectory, Neal said it could still be revived.

“It has slowed down, there’s no question. But that doesn’t mean it won’t pop up, because it’s in a political gambit and a lot of dynamics get involved in that,” he said.

The Senate Education Committee will likely meet next week to discuss another bill that has taken an uncertain course: charter schools.

Lawmakers have four more official working days during this year’s legislative session, but they also have plenty of time to negotiate. Starting next week, the governor’s 10-day veto period takes place. The General Assembly will end on March 30.