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Data shows Black, Latino and low-income JCPS students hit hardest by bus issues

Many young people in jeans and street fashions walk through a crowded parking lot. School buses are in the background.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Black students make up just over a third of JCPS’ population, but they accounted for nearly half of the minutes lost to bus delays in October and November.

Low-income students and students of color are missing a disproportionate amount of class time due to the ongoing transportation crisis in Jefferson County Public Schools.

As transportation issues remain ongoing in Jefferson County Public Schools, new data obtained by LPM News shows low-income, Black and Latino students are the most likely to miss out on instructional time due to bus delays this school year.

LPM requested bus delay data kept by JCPS from October 2023 through Thanksgiving break. JCPS restarted systematically tracking bus delays in October, after initially doing away with the practice at the beginning of the school year. Bus delay data kept for the first two months of the school year was disorganized and often recorded on handwritten worksheets. Using that information, LPM found students were missing more instructional time than last year under the current transportation plan.

The patchwork August and September records didn’t include students’ demographic information. LPM’s analysis of records from October and November is the first look at how bus delays intersect with students’ race, ethnicity, family income and disability status.

Black students in JCPS were the most heavily impacted. Though Black students make up 36% of JCPS’ population, they experienced nearly half of the 2.4 million minutes lost to bus delays in October and November.

Latino students were also significantly affected. Latino students make up about 16% of JCPS’ total population, but as a group they missed more total minutes of instruction than white students. White students account for 37% of the district.

Asian students were disproportionately impacted as well. While around 5% of JCPS students are Asian, Asian students accounted for about 9% of delayed students.

Students from low-income households were significantly more likely than their wealthier classmates to miss out on instruction due to bus delays. While low-income students make up two-thirds of JCPS, they accounted for three-quarters of all late arrivals.

One major reason why students of color and low-income students are more likely to experience bus delays is because they are more likely to rely on the district for transportation.

Black students account for 36% of students overall but make up 40% of bus riders. Students from low-income households also account for a larger share of bus riders than they do for the overall population.

But even among bus riders, Black students, Asian students and low-income students are carrying a disproportionate burden of delays, while white bus riders and riders from wealthier households are less likely to have a tardy school bus.

JCPS declined to make any staff member available for an interview for this story. But JCPS spokesperson Carolyn Callahan provided an emailed statement.

“While we wish there were no students missing any minutes at the start of each school day, that is not a realistic option this school year due to the nationwide shortage of bus drivers and JCPS’ current policy of transporting virtually any child who needs transportation to and from school,” Callahan wrote.

She also noted that the overall average delay time for students regardless of race, ethnicity, income or disability was between 13 minutes and 15 minutes. As to the disproportionate impact on Black students, Callahan noted that Black students were more likely to ride the bus.

“A larger ratio of Black student bus riders would lead to more of them being on buses that arrive late,” she wrote.

Community response

Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham said his organization is “not surprised” by the findings.

“We feel that the disparities must not only be addressed, but they must be fixed,” Cunningham told LPM.

Cunningham said he would like to see a solution in place before next fall, which is the current timeline for a possible fix offered by JCPS officials.

“The students are losing instructional time. And … because they're probably not being delivered home on schedule … they may be losing valuable family time,” he said.

Kenyata Dean Bacon, a teacher and member of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, called the findings a “glaring concern” and worried about how JCPS would make up the instructional time students are missing. She noted that Black and low-income students already have fewer learning opportunities than their more socioeconomically advantaged peers.

“What is the plan to restore those opportunities for learning moving forward?” Dean Bacon said in an interview with LPM. “I understand it puts the district in a bind, but we also have to have some type of responsibility to our students and providing them with the education that they have rights to.”

Dean Bacon cautioned that any offerings by the district to help make up those missed minutes shouldn’t feel “like a punishment,” and she also said that makeup time should be accessible to families most impacted by the transportation crisis.

Callahan said many schools are already working to make up instructional time lost through “extra sessions with teachers.”

“Some schools have alternating schedules so students who are late aren’t missing the same few minutes of the same class every day,” Callahan said.

Louisville Urban League President Lyndon Pryor called for “a measure of grace” for JCPS, noting the transportation issues stem, in part, from the district’s policy of allowing students to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods. It’s one way JCPS tries to maintain relatively integrated schools in a highly segregated city.

“That is the equitable thing to do. But it is also incredibly hard to do,” Pryor said.

“The frustrations of parents and community members are absolutely valid,” Pryor said. “But it is also important to acknowledge that this problem sits in a larger ecosystem of problems that has historically been thrown upon JCPS to solve.”

He said city leaders and residents need to address segregation and the impacts of racist practices like redlining.

Board member response

LPM reached out multiple times to all seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education for comment on the findings. District 5 board member Linda Duncan and District 7 board member Sarah Cole McIntosh were the only two to respond.

“It certainly puts urgency into the effort to find a solution, but it also demonstrates why only providing transportation for those who qualify for free/reduced lunch would likely not significantly lessen the need for drivers,” Duncan said by email, noting that a majority of bus riders come from low-income families.

“Regardless, that those most dependent on bus transportation and facing the most academic challenges are losing the most instructional time is distressing.”

McIntosh did not directly respond to the racial and economic disparities, aside from saying she believed other factors could “skew” the data, like student assignment patterns.

She said one of her major concerns is the toll on school staff, who are working extra hours after school to care for students whose buses are delayed.

McIntosh said she feels her questions about the crisis “haven’t been answered fully” by top JCPS staff during board meetings, and that she’s frustrated by a lack of urgency she said she sees among “some” board members and staff.

“I think we have a bit of a Pollyanna situation with some folks,” McIntosh said, noting she hasn’t seen a concrete proposal for a solution to the transportation issues. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio has said the board should plan to vote next month on a plan for the 2024-2025 school year.

Proposed solutions

While JCPS staff haven’t proposed a concrete plan, they have floated several options that would reduce or fully cut transportation for magnet school students, including those in the “traditional” school program.

But community members have concerns about that proposal. Pryor, with the Louisville Urban League, said cutting magnet transportation is “not something that the league would support.”

“You are going to dramatically reduce the ability of Black and Brown and poor kids to be able to go to magnet schools,” Pryor said. He suggested the district explore using a “needs test” to determine who gets a bus.

Tyra Walker, a JCPS parent, teacher and Kentucky Alliance co-chair, said she also worries about the proposed cuts to magnet busing. She wondered whether such a plan would pass muster with the district’s Racial Equity Analysis Protocol, or REAP — a tool JCPS uses to evaluate the impact of policies on students of color and other marginalized student groups.

“It needs to be REAPed before we can actually make a solid decision,” Walker said.

With a proposed February deadline for making the decision, Dean Bacon, also with the Kentucky Alliance, said the district needs to engage parents, staff and other community members. She noted that as early as the board’s September meeting, district officials promised to consult the community as they craft a solution.

So far, no public hearings or opportunities for open community engagement have been scheduled besides a limited public comment period at the board’s monthly meetings. Callahan, with JCPS, said the district is in the process of planning those discussions.

Legislative intervention looms

While JCPS is grappling with its transportation crisis, Republican state legislators in Frankfort have signaled they may intervene.

After the transportation meltdown in August, some Jefferson County Republican lawmakers called for a commission to look into dividing up JCPS. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, suggested those discussions may have some traction as the legislative session gets underway. Earlier this month, Stivers told reporters that discussions about dividing JCPS were “not necessarily a backburner issue.”

K.A. Owens, with the Kentucky Alliance, said LPM’s findings on the socioeconomic disparities of delays were “important,” but worried about their reception in the current political climate around JCPS.

“It seems like a lot of people out there want to use every difficulty to slam Jefferson County Public Schools — they are using it as an excuse to break up the school system,” Owens said.

Pryor, Cunningham and Owens all oppose splitting JCPS. So do members of several JCPS Black Student Unions, along with Dean Bacon.

“Splitting the district is not going to help us improve, all it’s going to do is to divide resources,” Dean Bacon said.

The JCBE’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 at the VanHoose Education Center.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.