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Kentucky Republicans Express Concerns About Potential JCPS Takeover

Ryland Barton

Kentucky Republicans aren’t all on the same page when it comes to a potential state takeover of Louisville’s public school system.

Gov. Matt Bevin is in favor of it, saying that local officials haven’t been able to fix longstanding problems in the district like a pervasive gap between the academic performances of white and minority students.

But a month after Kentucky’s new education commissioner recommended a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, some Republican lawmakers say that local officials should be left in charge of fixing the district’s problems.

Rep. John “Bam” Carney, the Republican chair of the House Education Committee, said that local leaders acknowledge the problems and are trying to address them. Carney is also a social studies teacher at Taylor County Middle School.

“If we had a school district, a superintendent, a school board who were refusing they had any problems or had anything to change, then this would be a different situation,” Carney said.

“I think they deserve the chance to continue to make that progress and not have a takeover from the state, which could jeopardize some of that. Because in the education field, morale is a huge part of the whole thing.”

Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis recommended the takeover last month when he released an audit of the district detailing problems with instruction, reporting student restraint and seclusion, and a lack of support for low-performing students and schools.

The Kentucky Board of Education will have the final say on whether to intervene in the management of JCPS, which would relegate the local board to an advisory role.

The JCPS board voted on Tuesday to appeal the recommendation for a takeover, triggering a public hearing that will take place sometime in June.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville, said taking over JCPS wouldn’t be an appropriate use of the state’s takeover law, which in the past has been used to reform districts that are struggling with corruption or financial problems.

Nemes said he’s in favor of putting the district under “state assistance,” which would leave local officials in charge but require them to follow a corrective action plan.

“The local board has to do those things. If they don’t, then it’s appropriate to ratchet it up to go to the takeover. But going from zero to takeover is not appropriate,” Nemes said.

Nemes also said he’s working on a bill that would clarify when a takeover can happen, calling the current law “pretty amorphous and overly broad.”

Kentucky has taken over a handful of school districts over the last 30 years — all of them small districts in Eastern Kentucky.

The potential takeover of JCPS would be the largest carried out by the state.

The district’s population of over 100,000 students more than doubles the combined populations of all the districts that have been taken over in the past.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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