Attempt to possibly split up JCPS dies in GOP-led committee
A group of GOP lawmakers couldn’t get enough support for a measure to audit JCPS with an eye towards chopping it up.
A group of Republican state lawmakers tried and failed Tuesday morning to pass a last-minute measure seeking to possibly break up Jefferson County Public Schools.
Republican Sen. Steve West of Paris tacked the controversial provision onto an unrelated education measure that already had broad bipartisan support.
The proposed changes to Senate Bill 156 would have forced JCPS to pay for an independent audit, with an eye toward splitting up the district of 96,000 students.
“The report shall include recommendations on how the educational services provided to students within the Jefferson County public school district may be improved, including recommendations on how the Jefferson County public school district may be reconstituted into two or more school districts for consideration by the General Assembly,” the provision read.
West tried to move the measure through the House Education Committee. He said JCPS is a “key component” for the state’s education system.
“That's a large portion of our scores,” he said. “And we have a responsibility to make sure that every child in JCPS is getting a high-quality education.”
Opponents noted the district has been the subject of numerous audits since 2014, including one in 2018 which prompted then-education commissioner Wayne Lewis to threaten JCPS with state takeover. JCPS was released from state oversight in 2020, after correcting hundreds of deficiencies listed in the 2018 audit.
Democrats and some Republicans on the committee balked at requiring yet another audit.
“They've had audit after audit. What do we think this audit is going to show? We know what the problems are,” said Republican Rep. Scott Lewis, former superintendent of Ohio County Schools.
Lewis called the provision a “waste of money,” which he said should be put toward hiring more social workers and educators. He also expressed dismay at the last-minute addition of the measure to a bill that had bipartisan support.
“It’s not right,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner, a former Jefferson County Board of Education member, called the late-hour surprise provision “undemocratic.”
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he was not consulted about the legislation and found out Monday night at 9 p.m.
“It was an absolute punch to the gut,” he told the committee.
Pollio and Willner said because of historic redlining, splitting the district would result in severe racial and economic segregation.
“That is not good for the community,” Pollio said. “And it will be one of the most devastating decisions for education in Jefferson County in 50 years.”
The measure received 9 "yes" votes, 6 "no" votes and 3 passes — not the majority needed to advance it to the House floor.
After the version failed, lawmakers re-passed SB 156 in its previous form, which calls for a new statewide reading research center.