JCPS student assignment committee

JCPS’ student assignment committee meets in February 2019. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

A student assignment plan giving students in Louisville’s West End more choice in where they attend school is advancing to community and school board discussion.

Jefferson County Public Schools currently assigns each middle and high school student one “resides” school — the school they attend if they do not opt for a magnet program. For most students in the West End, that school is often miles away, sometimes on the other side of the county. The distance can limit parental engagement or participation in after-school activities.

The new proposal would give those students a choice between two resides schools — one around the current location of their assigned school, the other closer to their neighborhood. Elementary school assignment, which uses a cluster method, is not expected to change.

Initially proposed by Superintendent Marty Pollio in June, a committee tasked with reviewing the assignment plan gave the “dual resides” proposal the green light for larger discussion Tuesday. Community and board feedback will be sought, and a consultant will handle specifics and potentially pitch other plans. JCPS hopes to have a plan finalized in time for parents to select schools for the 2020-21 year this fall.

JCPS reviews how it assigns students to schools every five to seven years. The district is required to modify the plan in some capacity this time as part of a corrective action plan with the state. Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has said he doesn’t have a plan he wants to be implemented. He believes all assignment decisions need to be made locally, he told reporters last August.

While lauded for its emphasis on diversity, the assignment plan is criticized for putting the burden of creating diverse schools on the backs of poor, black students and their families. Black students in the West End are often bused to their resides school for diversity, while white students are lured to the West End by magnet programs.

The committee sought a plan that balanced choice — something a countywide survey found was a top priority of parents and students — with the district’s focus on diversity and equity.

While the committee liked the proposal overall, some fear it will create high concentrations of poverty in schools. High-need schools often require more resources and student supports, potentially meaning a shift in how district funds are allocated. Pollio said Tuesday resourcing in those schools must be “substantial” to help.

Pollio said there is “no question” that JCPS will need to build a new middle school in the West End should the plan pass. There is not a middle school that isn’t a full magnet program in the West End, leaving little room for students who opt to stay in the area. JCPS passed a $120 million facilities plan to build four new schools, but it does not include a West End middle school.

JCPS partially relies on magnet programs, which often have behavior and academic admission requirements, to create diverse schools. Placing more magnet programs in West End schools brings in white students, reducing the diversity burden on black students, but can take up room in schools for students in the area who want to stay in the area.

Magnets can also run into equity and access issues. African American students are disproportionately more likely to get in trouble at school, potentially lessening the chances they’ll be accepted into a program of choice. Adjusting magnet admission requirements may be on the table as another way to increase school choice for black students, some committee members said.

Pollio said the committee will continue to grapple with magnet access issues as the larger plan is discussed.

Since students will still have the option to go to their current resides school, and because the district is required to transport students to it, the proposal is unlikely to reduce the number of bus routes or amount spent on transportation. Those against busing for desegregation frequently criticize the district for its transportation spending, pushing it to cut back on diversity-driven transportation and return to “neighborhood schools.”

What do you think about JCPS’ assignment plan? What would you like to see changed in a new plan? Email education reporter Olivia Krauth your thoughts at