Attica Scott's Strong Words on HB151

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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On February 16, the Kentucky House Education Committee heard testimony on HB151, the so-called “neighborhood schools bill.” While there were many words said by many people, the words from Rep. Attica Scott toward the end of the hearing ring strong and true. We thought it important that they be heard by you as well.


As a parent of Jefferson County Public Schools students, I am disgusted by some of the comments that were shared here today about black students, and I’m not going to leave here allowing you all to think that I put my babies on buses to come home to become addicted to alcohol and drugs or to shoot someone on the street. That is disgusting and offensive and not one comment was made about black students being scholars. Achievers. Leaders. Our future.

That’s Rep. Scott of Louisville explaining why she was about to vote “no” on the so-called neighborhood schools bill that would require Jefferson County Public Schools to let students attend the school closest to where they live. The simple-seeming proposal would effectively scrap JCPS’s system of creating more diversity in its schools through its student assignment plan.

 

The hearing included testimony from bill proponent Jerry L. Stevenson, Senior Minister of Midwest Church of Christ. He described the location of his church as “In the heat of what’s going on, in the crime, the violence, and the murders and killings that are taking place in our community.”

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Teddy Gordon, the attorney who is a long-time vocal opponent of the assignment plan. Gordon characterized low-achieving students by saying, “We know what they’re going to do. They’re either going to be found dead on the streets, in prison, or hopefully they have some type of menial job and they work at it hard and they are allowed to improve.”

Gordon called Jefferson County Public schools “abysmal.” Referring to a bullying lawsuit he filed in December on behalf of seven students, Gordon described the conditions at Crosby Middle School as “a deprivation of civil rights for a child to have a den of anarchy, a day in hell every day.”

Scott’s closing comments continue:

As a product of JCPS, the mother of a graduate who became a McConnell scholar at the University of Louisville and a daughter who was an honor student, that Dr. Hargens knows I’m the biggest critic of JCPS, and at the same time, at the same time, we need to acknowledge the fact that we have amazing people teaching and working at JCPS and students who come out of there to become amazing leaders across our community. I would not put my babies on buses for them to go to war zones. It’s a ridiculous notion. Ridiculous.

The neighborhood schools bill, House Bill 151, was introduced by Louisville Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher of District 29. He said at the hearing, “It’s just common sense that kids should be able to go to the school closest to where they live.”

Bratcher brought with him to the hearing Jim Waters, president of The Bluegrass Institute, a Lexington-based conservative policy group. Waters supported an end to the JCPS student assignment plan, saying it has not helped black students. He said, “In most cases the white minus black achievement gaps were growing wider and getting larger.”

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens opposed the bill, saying “we believe the bill would have a negative impact on student learning and would actually widen student achievement gaps.”

Hargens said that under the bill, “The educational and social experiences of all students would be diminished. As our community and world becomes more diverse, our schools would become less diverse. Indeed because housing patterns in Louisville do remain largely segregated by race and income, the unintended consequences of this bill would be that many of our schools would become as segregated as our neighborhoods.”

Also opposing the bill, Jefferson County Teachers Association Vice President Tammy Berlin said, “Data clearly shows that the most powerful thing we can do to help all of our students succeed is to reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poverty, which is exactly what our student assignment efforts in JCPS do… House Bill 151 will harm educational outcomes for poor and minority students. It will widen achievement gaps based on both race and income.”

Scott’s closing comments continue:

I was bused from Beecher Terrace, a housing development in Louisville, where I would have never been with white students had it not been for busing, and being bused to St. Matthews in a neighborhood that I now serve as representative of House District 41. Busing has opened up the door for so many opportunities. JCPS allows choice now. I have taken advantage of every choice that JCPS has offered, long before being in elected office. My kids went to a magnet school, I went to a magnet school. My kids went to traditional school, and they had a hardship transfer. So they’ve had the opportunity for choice at JCPS. I hope that folks will take the opportunity to become more educated, to realize that all of our black students are not failing and are not failures, and to understand the benefits that the choices at JCPS has allowed.

The legislators from across the state showed extraordinary interest in a bill whose main effect would be on Jefferson County. They asked for details on the statistics presented, whether the bill might save money on running school buses, and how it might affect participation in sports. There was barely a reference to the locally elected school board. There were no questions or comments from the elected officials about the value of diversity.

One of the few references to local school board control came from the testimony of Supt. Hargens, who concluded, “Allowing locally elected board members to make decisions permits the values and voices of a community to be taken into account in a meaningful way.”

Here’s the next part of Scott’s speech:

We cannot legislate away our global society, no matter how hard we try. Our kids are going into a society where there is immense diversity, whether from immigrants and refugees, or people who simply look different from them. And we need to support those opportunities so that when they go out into the real world to make a difference that they’re not going out with prejudices and stereotypes of people because they never had a chance to be with them.

The committee passed HB151 by an 11-4 vote. On February 23 the House approved it 59-37. The next stop would be the Senate Education Committee.

Here’s how Scott concluded her remarks:

We have amazing segregation in Louisville, residential segregation, and neighborhood schools will only add to our division. And for that reason, I’m voting ‘no’.

You can watch the House Education Committee hearing in the KET archives at

Live Legislative Coverage

The Committee deliberations begin on Part 1 of the video at the 14:00 minute mark. Rep. Scott’s comments start on Part 2 of the video at the 35:00 minute mark.

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