(Photo: Matt Stone, Courier Journal)
The Jefferson County Public Schools board will vote Tuesday on the district’s first “racial educational equity plan.”
Over the next two years, Jefferson County Public Schools will strive to increase teacher diversity, stem disproportionate suspension rates and shrink its racial achievement gap.
But some in the community are questioning whether the district’s new racial educational equity plan, up for board approval Tuesday night, goes far enough.
“It’s timid for what we need to see happen in the district,” said Chris Harmer, chairman of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools – Louisville, a coalition of local advocacy groups. “It needs teeth.”
“What we want to see are real differences that change outcomes for students who are desperately in need of a quality education in this community,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League.
The new plan includes several goals for the district to accomplish by 2020, including:
- A 3 percent decrease in the achievement gap between black students and their white peers
- A 10 percent decrease in suspensions of students of color
- A 5 percent increase in students of color identified as Gifted and Talented
The plan, developed by a council of students, parents, educators and community members, stems from a historic policy passed by the JCPS board last May. Each of the district’s 156 schools also were required to create equity plans.
The district of 98,000 has the largest share of black students in the state. On last year’s state math and reading tests, JCPS’ black students at all grade levels were outperformed by their white peers by roughly 30 percentage points.
Both Harmer and Reynolds said they lauded JCPS for tackling longstanding inequities faced by students of color — a step taken by few other large, urban school districts.
“It’s a good framework,” Reynolds said. “But we want to make sure we have the meat on it.”
Reynolds said she expects more from the district about accountability and cautioned that, in a district so large, there could be “rogue” principals or schools that don’t hold up their ends of the bargain.
“What happens when the policy is not adhered to? Are we really prepared to see through and follow through on this work?” she asked.
Harmer, whose coalition includes the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Louisville Showing Up For Racial Justice, said the district’s plan needs to be more aggressive — especially when it comes to funding.
The plan sets a goal of spending at least $2 million by 2020 on initiatives focused on students of color.
Citing the district’s $1.7 billion operating budget, Harmer said the $2 million commitment “doesn’t even come close” to the resources needed to achieve the plan’s goals.
Harmer also questioned why the final plan says JCPS will “provide” implicit bias and cultural competence training for teachers — rather than require it.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff that smacks of, ‘We’re going to be the best we can with what we have,'” Harmer said. “And that has really not done a whole lot to fix the gaps that we have.”
District spokeswoman Renee Murphy said by November all JCPS teachers will have taken part in the district’s Equity Institute, which is focused on cultural competency and inclusion. Certified staff also will be required to complete an online training in implicit bias by the last day of school, she said.
As for funding, Murphy said the $2 million represents an addition to equity-related funding already underway, such as the district’s $2.2 million investment in the new W.E.B. DuBois Academy. Murphy also said the figure represented a floor — not a ceiling — and that “additional funds could be proposed in the future.”
Reynolds said she has been encouraged by Superintendent Marty Pollio’s willingness to tackle big issues.
“We need him acting and responding on his feet in real time to make corrections as they’re needed,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we are partners.”