Oldham County doesn't have choice. It has a transfer policy. This transfer policy states, "Upon proper application, the Superintendent may permit students who reside in one Oldham County School attendance district to attend another Oldham County school provided such approval does not result in employment of additional staff, an imbalance in class size, or overcrowding in the receiving school."
In other words, Oldham County is following established policy.
Oldham County didn't get where it is through competition. My parents moved here in 1975. That happens to be the same year that Jefferson County Public Schools was ordered to desegregate and a busing plan went into place. At that time, Louisville saw a massive flight of wealthy white people to surrounding counties and private schools. Phil Moffett went to a private school. My brother and I wound up in Oldham County.
Oldham County schools were not great in 1975. My brother's spelling textbook was one he'd had two years prior in Maryland. His science textbook said "someday man will walk on the moon." My mother said when she went to register my brother that first year there was nobody at the front office to greet her. She wandered into the office and found the principal of the elementary school sitting on his desk with his arms around two members of his young office staff, giggling like school kids.
The new parents that flooded Oldham County demanded change and got it. A respected superintendent, a great new principal (we miss you, Mr. Jacovino) for my elementary school, and a lot of parental involvement helped whip them into shape, not "competition". For my entire career there it only had one high school and two middle schools. It was not the highest performing district in the state because of "competition", but because it was and remains among the wealthiest districts in the state and the parents within it send their kids to the schools.
If you look at Oldham County's data, you'll see that much like Jefferson County, its test scores align with the wealth of those that attend. LaGrange Elementary has a population of 143 students on free and reduced lunch. That represents 56% of their population. 43.1% of their student body is proficient in reading. 40.7% is proficient in math.
Contrast that with Goshen at Hillcrest Elementary in the affluent Goshen/Prospect area. Just 28 students are on free and reduced lunch, representing 7.7% of their population. 77.4% of their population is proficient in reading. 74.7% is proficient in math.
Is Goshen at Hillcrest a better school, or are the kids at Goshen at Hillcrest simply living in more fortunate circumstances? Phil Moffett would have you believe that simply putting all of those LaGrange kids in Goshen at Hillcrest would turn them around. But would it? There is a huge achievement gap at Goshen at Hillcrest between overall performance and the performance for free and reduced lunch students. Have you ever heard any politician call that out? Me either.
THE PROBLEM WITH "CHOICE"
Phil Moffett, Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, Kentucky Board of Education members Hal Heiner, Ben Cundiff, Milton Seymore, and other conservative education privatizers love to talk of the notion of "choice".
The cool thing in Jefferson County is that we currently have choice. Parents have the following options:
- Magnet programs
- Schools within clusters
- District transfers (like what Oldham County has) where you can ask to be moved to any school
- Overcrowding in areas where demand exceeds capacity
- Transportation concerns with how students will get to programs that are too expensive to replicate in multiple schools
- Mistaking test performance for school performance
- The false perception of "winners" and "losers"
All of these issues play out in Jefferson County every day. Jefferson County offers parents a choice. Parents who take a more active role in their children's education tend to look for the "best" schools. These parents also tend to provide the most support for their kids, which in turn makes these "best" schools look better. In the meantime, schools with lower scores tend to continue to underperform because of these same factors. It's telling that private school champions and education profiteers like Phil Moffett, BIPPS, Hal Heiner, Wayne Lewis, Ben Cundiff, tend to dance around these issues when it comes to the charter and private schools they support, but go into critic mode when these issues occur in public schools. In fact, Moffett seems to change his concerns based on what's happening at the moment in public schools. Consider this tweet.
This problem extends to our education commissioner. Wayne Lewis, in the June 6, 2018 Kentucky Board of Education meeting mentioned that he was concerned about the kids who didn't get into high demand programs in Kentucky. Cool. I'm right there with him.
But how far are these far-right conservatives willing to go to preserve "choice"? If Wayne Lewis wants more students to be able to get into YPAS, is he going to push for funding to expand the school campus, its facilities, and transportation to get kids there? Or will he support building more facilities elsewhere around town with qualified staffing? How about Phil Moffett? Will he put more money into facilities in Oldham County? Will he also support those who are perfectly fine with their kids being in schools that aren't busting out at the seams, or will he say we should close those schools because they aren't in demand? Will Hal Heiner, BIPPS, Matt Bevin, Wayne Lewis, Ben Cundiff, and all of the others who claim to care so much about education and choice be willing to fund a whole series of choices for students like are currently available in JCPS? Will they be willing to fund expansion of these programs at several schools and/or increased transportation to get to them? Will they fund these programs in other districts that don't have them?
Of course the answer is no. Because this isn't about choice. It's about using any and all ammunition you can find to attack our public school system and divert public funds to the businesses and schools these men care about. Their core philosophy is to reduce spending on government resources. Matt "East Asian Studies Major" Bevin himself saw budget cuts as a positive in higher education because "for the first time in a very long time, our state universities are looking at what they offer that is adding value, and what they are offering that adds less value. Or maybe no value. Or maybe negligible value.”
He went onto add, "Where are we getting, as taxpayers, a good return on the investment we’re making? It’s still close to $1 billion that taxpayers put into postsecondary education every year here in Kentucky, and it’s important that we get a good return on that. So we want programs offered that result in jobs and job opportunities for the graduates. That’s why we’re subsidizing them. That’s what it is, it’s taxpayer money.”
Do you think attitudes like that are going to be digging deep to find funding for high school arts programs, journalism programs, or any other choices that don't align with what they feel is useful? Dream on.
If you want to preserve choice, it's time to push back on these individuals and tell them to put their money where their mouth is or shut up.