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Jefferson County School Board Approves Historic School Choice Plan

  • In an effort to improve equity, boost attendance, improve students’ sense of belonging, and increase family involvement in their children’s schools, the school board for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., unanimously voted to overhaul how it assigns students to schools.

    The school choice proposal put forward by Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio, which will take effect in the 2023-24 school year, will allow students in predominately Black West Louisville to choose a nearby school, or a designated middle or high school elsewhere in the county, or a magnet school.

    The plan also will add $12 million annually in resources to 13 schools in that neighborhood for the next decade and reduce class sizes in those schools.

    In a news release, Pollio called the new plan “a historic vote and a historic day for the children of Jefferson County.” Pollio has described the district’s longtime student assignment plan as unfair and burdensome to students who live in the West Louisville area.

    The plan also redraws boundaries to reduce the number of feeder patterns into high schools and changes the district’s magnet strategy. Magnet schools will be barred from pushing out students; diversity targets will be established; the application and selection process will be centralized; and popular magnet programs will be opened in more schools.

    Board chair Diane Porter urged support for the changes, saying in the news release, “Public education is, and must be, about providing everything necessary for ALL students to learn. This plan will help address some of the many issues facing our students–achievement, diversity, poverty, mental health, and social/emotional learning.”

    The vote in great measure shelved an effort of nearly a half century to integrate schools in Jefferson County through busing.

    In 1975, the district began busing students as part of a plan to desegregate the school system. But the district pared the program over time, with children in the Black community shouldering the burden of being bused to distant schools even as neighborhood schools were found to lack adequate resources and support. Since the 1980s, students in whiter and more affluent areas of the district have attended local schools, unless they opted to enroll elsewhere.

    A state report in 2018 found a “distinct, negative impact” of the district’s school assignment plan on the district’s most vulnerable and mainly Black children.

    “Today can be a new beginning for JCPS. It can be a new beginning for Black children. And it can be a new beginning to rebuild trust,” said board vice chairman Corrie Shull, according to the Courier Journal. “The stakes are really high. I hope we don’t let Black kids down.”