The Metropolitan Housing Coalition (MHC) calls upon the Kentucky Board of Education and the Interim State Education Commissioner to commit to implementing a strong and effective school desegregation plan for the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) – a plan that will continue and strengthen JCPS’ efforts to combat the effects of housing segregation in Louisville and achieve diversity in every school. As state officials move forward with proceedings to take over management of JCPS, we are concerned about JCPS’ future in the absence of a demonstrated understanding of racial housing segregation and its impact on schools. With no detailed and effective desegregation plan from state officials to affirm that diversity and equity remain important goals, MHC is compelled to take a formal position opposing state takeover.
MHC has worked tirelessly for over 20 years to promote fair, decent and affordable housing in the Louisville metropolitan region. The extreme residential segregation that continues to plague our city is a principal obstacle to achieving these goals. As demonstrated by research on the history of redlining in Louisvillei and Richard Rothstein’s groundbreaking work,ii housing segregation resulted from decades of intentional public policy at all levels of government. More than 50 years after enactment of fair housing laws, Louisville remains highly segregated. By one measure, it is the fourth-most segregated city in the U.S.iii
Research has repeatedly documented the devastating effects of segregation, particularly for people of color and low-income families. Report after report reveal the deleterious impact of segregation on health, economic opportunity, social well-being, public safety, and educational outcomes for public school students. Segregation is particularly harmful for marginalized groups, but everyone is affected. Nationally, higher rates of racial segregation are associated with lower economic growth for entire metropolitan areas.iv
As part of its effort to roll back decades of segregation in Louisville, MHC has always supported JCPS’ school desegregation efforts, implemented through the Jefferson County Student Assignment Plan (SAP). The SAP was first mandated in a court decree addressing the public schools’ documented history of intentional discrimination against African Americans. The SAP has become a critically important tool to ensure that even as our residential neighborhoods remain highly segregated, our young people will not face compulsory segregation at school. MHC is open to an improved plan to achieve diversity in every school. However, it is important to recognize that housing desegregation did not happen organically. It is a legacy of segregationist housing policy. Efforts to break that legacy will take many years.
MHC applauds the Jefferson County Board of Education’s efforts to continue implementing and improving the SAP, even after being formally released from legal obligations to do so, and despite later court challenges seeking to undo it. Among urban U.S. school districts, JCPS is unique in its commitment to desegregation. Unfortunately, jurisdictions such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg have reverted to highly racially segregated schools after backing away from their commitment to diversity.v
MHC has worked with Louisville Metro government on issues of segregation and affordable housing. Louisville Metro has demonstrated its commitment by funding the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, appointing a city Chief Equity Officer, implementing the Fair Housing Assessment, committing to Racial Equity Here, and supporting the Redlining Project. MHC calls upon the state to demonstrate an equally strong commitment to dismantling the lasting effects of intentional governmental policies that created segregation. That would certainly be expected as part of any effort to close the student achievement gap and address other racial equity issues in the public schools.
The Kentucky State Board of Education is currently in legal proceedings to take over management of JCPS. If successful, the Jefferson County Board of Education will be relegated to an advisory capacity, and the State Education Commissioner will have sole management authority. This has occurred against the backdrop of statements from the Governor and other state officials suggesting that the Jefferson County SAP should be scrapped in favor of a return to “neighborhood schools,” and a state audit report questioning implementation of the Jefferson County SAP.
Neighborhood schools will be segregated schools, and that is no way to bridge the racial educational achievement gap. We have had neighborhood schools in the past and have seen the discriminatory impact, particularly for students of color and students from low-income families. As a city, we cannot afford to take a step backward.
To date, the Interim State Education Commissioner has not shared his plans for JCPS if the state is permitted to take over the district. There is too much at stake for state officials to remain silent. MHC calls upon the Kentucky Board of Education and the Interim State Education Commissioner to affirm their commitment to school desegregation and their recognition that diversity will not happen organically because of the continuing impact of racial housing segregation policies. In the absence of a detailed and effective school desegregation plan from state officials, MHC opposes state takeover of the Jefferson County Public Schools.
i Joshua Poe, Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class & Real Estate (June 2015, updated Dec 2017), https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=a73ce5ba85ce4c3f80d365ab1ff89010
ii Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright 2017)
iii Alexander Kent & Thomas Frohlich, America’s Most Segregated Cities, 24/7 Wall St. (Aug 29, 2015).
iv Harrison Campbell, Huiping Li and Steven Fernandez, Residential Segregation, Spatial Mismatch and Economic Growth across US Metropolitan Areas, 50 Urban Studies No. 15 (Oct 2013).
v Jennifer Ayscue, Brian Woodward et al., Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now, (forward by Gary Orfield) The Civil Right Project (May 14, 2014)