‘UNMITIGATED DISASTER’: Lawmakers Call for School Choice After Students Soil Themselves Stuck on Buses for 6 Hours

Tony Kinnett | August 12, 2023

(The Daily Signal) — A dozen Kentucky legislators are calling for a complete overhaul in state education after a transportation nightmare on the first day of school stranded hundreds of Louisville students on buses until almost 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Relying on the controversial computer program AlphaRoute to remap already lengthy bus routes for the school district’s short-staffed bus team, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Martin Pollio bragged that students wouldn’t wait “for more than an hour.”

Pollio had just received a $75,000 raise from the Louisville-based school district, as The Daily Signal reported Thursday. AlphaRoute previously had botched mapping of school bus routes in Columbus, Ohio.

State Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican, called the situation in Louisville schools an “unmitigated debacle” in an interview Friday with The Daily Signal

“With kids stuck on the bus for over six hours, several ended up soiling themselves,” Nemes said. “One elementary student who didn’t speak English was dropped off at the wrong stop—7 or 8 years old. An unrelated mom and dad saw this kid crying on the street and approached him; that’s the only reason we found him.” 

Many teachers were left driving around Louisville for hours to take students home, Nemes told The Daily Signal. 

“What if a teacher had gotten into an accident?” he asked. “Would they have been liable?”

Jefferson County Public Schools announced the next morning, Thursday, that schools would be closed that day and Friday so that administrators could fix “transportation issues.” 

In response, 12 members of the state Senate and House wrote an open letter to Jefferson County parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers, demanding immediate change.

The lawmakers’ letter called for four key changes:

  • Give all students “the right to attend their neighborhood schools” instead of busing students across Jefferson County depending on their assigned schools.
  • Set up a commission to evaluate breaking up Jefferson County Public Schools, which currently is the largest school district in Kentucky, serving almost 96,000 students.
  • Elect new members to the Jefferson County Board of Education.
  • Ask voters on the 2024 ballot whether the state Constitution should be amended to provide universal school choice.

Signing the letter were Nemes and fellow state Reps. Jared Bauman, Kevin Bratcher, Emily Callaway, John Hodgson, Ken Fleming, and Susan Witten, all Republicans.

Also signing were state Sens. Matt Deneed, Julie Raque Adams, Mike Nemes, Adrienne Southworth, and Lindsey Tichenor, also Republicans.

Nemes told The Daily Signal that the problem lies largely at the feet of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

The school board, he said, was focused on state legislation, SB 150, to protect parental rights during implementation of school policies.

“In the last few weeks, [the board] had several special sessions to circumvent SB 150; they should have been using that time to solve the bus crisis,” Nemes said. “The board wasn’t focused on transportation—this didn’t come out of nowhere. This was one of the most predictable problems in history.”

The Jefferson County Board of Education held three “special” sessions after SB 150 passed, but held no special or emergency sessions to address the school system’s bus driver shortage or complaints from the drivers union. 

One Teamsters official told The Daily Signal that the union knows of over 50 bus drivers that have quit since Wednesday. The union official cited rumors that over 80 drivers have quit and that the school system is considering remaining closed until September or early October.

Jefferson County Public Schools has not responded to a request for comment by The Daily Signal.

Concerning the school choice push, Nemes told The Daily Signal: “Our goal is to bring that option to all of our citizens, not just the ones who can afford it. It won’t just be good for them, but also for public schools.”

The lawmaker added:

We all pay taxes whether we have kids or not. I have two kids in JCPS and my wife is a public school teacher. I’m pro-public education. However, if a parent thinks their kid should be educated in a different environment, then the tax dollars should follow that kid.

After [school choice] passes, a school could not exist unless parents decide to send their kids there. A lot of public school advocates worry about how it’s going to take all this money away, but remember: A private or charter school can’t exist unless a parent of students sends their kids there. This is a local control issue. 

Nemes said the response to the 12 state lawmakers’ open letter has been largely positive and bipartisan

“Teachers who have always been against me, who have knocked on doors for my opponent, are telling me to ‘keep going, Jason,’” he told The Daily Signal.

Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, told The Daily Signal in a written statement that although many desire legislative and constitutional change, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, ultimately will oppose such change.

DeAngelis said:

The government school system has abandoned Kentucky students. It was bad enough when the monopoly failed kids academically, but now the system’s showing it can’t even do the bare minimum of maintaining basic operations. The failure factories in the Jefferson County school district spend over $16,000 per student per year. It’s time to give that money directly to families so they can find alternatives that meet the needs of their children. 

It’s time for Kentucky to pass universal school choice, and fund students instead of systems. Republican legislators are now pushing for a constitutional amendment to advance school choice in the state, and the proposal is backed by the [House] speaker. That is fantastic news for families and those who support parental rights in education.

Gov. Andy Beshear will oppose empowering parents, of course, because he’s owned by leftist teachers unions. He is a total hypocrite, as he went to a private school and sent his kids to a private school, yet fights against education freedom for others.