Why Kentucky matters.

Louisville is home to the largest school district in Kentucky. In fact, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is three times larger than our state’s next largest school district, which is in Lexington. These two counties, along with a few progressive bright spots here and there, are the main reason we had the good fortune of electing a calm and collected Democratic governor who was able to protect Kentuckians from a cruel and vindictive GOP supermajority during the pandemic. So, just because we are a red state that’s been in an eternal chokehold by Senator Mitch McConnell does not mean we are a lost cause. In fact, I predict that the chain of events, that began with an abortion trigger law passing the KY General Assembly in 2019, to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade, to a proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to make the trigger law permanent and irreversible on the Nov. 8 ballot, is the perfect storm we have been waiting for.

Since 2017, the Kentucky legislature has passed 15 bills that have restricted access to abortion in the state. Among them is a 2019 law… that would ban abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. That same year, Kentucky passed a “trigger law,” that calls for banning all abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Washington Post, May 14, 2022

Kentucky is also the largest of six states that does not have charter schools or vouchers, yet.

Charter schools are run by private boards and funded with public money. They’ve technically been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but there are not yet any because lawmakers didn’t create a permanent funding mechanism for them until 2022. Numerous bodies must create regulations before would-be charter boards can apply to open schools.

WFPL, Sept. 27, 2022

Former KY Governor Matt Bevin made charter schools central to his term in office, which also helped make him a one-term governor. Voters successfully replace him in 2019, but the supermajority GOP took advantage of the pandemic and passed the bills we had successfully stopped until then.

JCPS operates 167 schools across nearly 400 square miles, and consists of the entirety of all public school students in downtown and West Louisville and dozens of surrounding neighborhoods and incorporated towns that make up our consolidated Louisville Metro Government after our city and county governments merged in 2001. In 1975, busing was implemented and for the last 40 years has been used as a political tool to act like we’re “doing something” when all we’re really doing is denying predominantly Black West Louisville families access to the same opportunities as everyone else, causing even more harm.

Nearly 100,000 students from across the county attend public schools in our resegregated district.

The district defines “market share” as the % of students in a resides location attending a Jefferson County Public School. Since 2017, the district’s population has declined from 96,275 to 92,786 in 2022. This also represents a sharp drop in market share from a steady 80.7% or higher three years in a row to 79% or less since the onset of the pandemic.

At the same time, percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch have increased. These figures indicate that the higher saturation levels of poverty could be due to the exodus of a higher percentage of students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch, who may have alternatives available, such as home schooling or private school enrollment. It could also indicate families who were not previously living in poverty may have experienced economic hardship since the pandemic. Either way, JCPS struggles in attracting and retaining students whose families economic situations reduce the poverty saturation levels, when doing so would make drastic and lasting improvements in the outcomes of all of our students, and help us create a roadmap to closing achievement gaps and opportunities.

With more than 20% of Jefferson County’s school-aged children attending a non-public school, the opportunities to not only stop the market share decline but to recapture some of those students so that we align more closely to the national average of 12% attending non-public school, means 8,000 to 10,000 higher performing students could be attracted to choose a public school if the offerings met their needs and expectations. What a positive difference not only having the agency and advocacy of these families showing up for our students, but a dramatic shift in demographics that could make for ALL of Jefferson County students and taxpayers.