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Democrats Fear House Bill Will Erode Racial Progress In Louisville Schools

Josh James
Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) hosts a press conference decrying House Bill 151, often called the "neighborhood schools bill."

Senate Democrats are working to present a united front against a bill they say threatens to "resegregate" Louisville schools.

House Bill 151, commonly called the "neighborhood schools bill," garnered sharp rebukes during a press conference organized by Senate Democrats Monday, with opponents arguing the measure would overrule local school boards, sow administrative chaos, and undermine long-running anti-segregation efforts.

"When you start separating and isolating parts of the community, it does not benefit anyone," Sen. Gerald Neal told a packed room in the Capitol.

The bill sounds simple on its face - giving students who live closest to a school priority over those who don't. Sponsor House Republican Kevin Bratcher told colleagues in February his constituents are flooding his inbox with requests for the change.

"They just can't believe that they can't go to a school right down the street, that that's something that is forbidden for them," he said. "This simply lets them have that first chance. They don't have to take it."

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Farnsley Middle School teacher Randi Skaggs argues against House Bill 151 during public press event Monday.

But critics contend the bill would remove assurances that Jefferson County middle and high school students can attend the schools within their preset district boundaries, drawn with an eye toward increasing diversity in the classroom, and wind the clock back toward de facto segregation.

"As much as I love and appreciate my teachers, I recognize that a lot of the things I've learned come from people who are different than me and from growing up in a place where it is normal to be different from the person sitting next to you," Atherton High School senior Isabel Sleczkowski told the audience at Monday's press event.

Bratcher argues opponents' fears are unfounded, citing progress in Louisville housing patterns and language in the bill exempting whole-school magnet schools and traditional schools. Supporters also maintain students' attending school closer to home will spur more parental involvement in meetings and events.

The bill cleared the House 59-37 and awaits action in a Senate committee.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.