Last night, roughly 200 people gathered at the chilly, windswept steps of City Hall to urge the Louisville Metro Council to support a lingering ordinance that would raise insurance premiums to fund affordable housing efforts across the city.
It was the third and largest such gathering over the past three months to draw attention to the under-funded Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which was created in 2007 but has remained underfunded ever since.
LEO Weekly reported on the dithering status of a legislative effort by council Democrats to develop the ordinance in the face of political opposition from the council as well as legal issues with the ordinance’s language.
Amid songs of solidarity and familiar protest chants, advocates — including Metro Council members Tom Owen, D-8, and Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, the ordinance’s primary sponsor — focused primarily on the plight of the estimated 13,000 homeless students in the Jefferson County Public School system.
“This year I have a student in my class who, early on, impressed me with his insight, how quickly he was able to grasp new concepts. The fact that this student is even in that class tells me he’s going to be very successful in the academic world,” said Scott Schneider, an AP physics teacher at Fairdale High School. “But in the third week of the school year, this student began to miss class at an alarming rate.”
“After I looked into this,” Schneider continued, “I learned that, even though his mother was working two jobs, their family had lost their home. (They) were continually moving around (from) shelter to shelter, to the homes of family and friends. I think we can all agree that working two jobs should be enough to stay in your home. But the reality is, in Louisville right now, that’s not the case. Hard working people are finding themselves homeless.”
According to HUD data compiled by the Louisville Coalition for the Homeless, “A person needs to make approximately $11 an hour to afford a market rate unit. At the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, a person would have to work 75 hours per week to afford (a two-bedroom) apartment” at market-rate value.
Schneider said the student eventually stopped showing up to school altogether and wound up being classified as “withdrawn” from the school system. “Obviously, not having a home has had a drastic effect on this student’s success,” he said.
Jason Jewell, a bright and extremely articulate 17-year-old student at Central High School, addressed the crowd and spoke of his interest in politics, his education and how affordable housing made those things possible.
“When I was 4 years old, my mother and I became homeless,” Jewell told LEO. “If it wasn’t for affordable housing, I would be on a much different path. So I spoke tonight to just say thanks for that opportunity, and that we need to open the doors for others to get the same opportunities that I was so grateful to have.”
While council members Owen and Ward-Pugh struck a fiery and optimistic tone, respectively, the political reality remains decidedly less hopeful: The ordinance — which remains divisive in part due to squabbling over the exact amount of taxes it would raise — currently remains tabled in the council’s Budget Committee, with little chance of finding the support it needs to become law. The makeshift rumor mill that briefly descended on the steps of City Hall suggests that it will most likely not garner the 14 votes it needs for passage.
Just around the corner, three local network television news vans were cloistered around the Hall of Justice, illustrating a major disconnect between the dire straights affecting thousands of people across the city, and the latest “if it bleeds, it leads” prime-time, sweeps-week journalism.
But the biggest disconnect when it comes to effectively identifying and solving a problem that’s crippling the city’s public schools lies in Frankfort. On the same day of the rally, news broke that a charter schools bill passed the state Senate education committee.
From The Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus:
FRANKFORT, KY. — A charter schools bill is on a steady course to clear the Republican state Senate but seems sure to stall when it hits the Democratic House.
The Senate Education Committee on Thursday passed Senate Bill 176 on a party line vote with majority Republicans voting in favor.
The bill would allow a local board of education to designate a persistently low-achieving school as a charter school.
The only witness for the bill Thursday was a Democratic state representative from Georgia, Alisha Thomas Morgan, who said she once opposed charter schools.
“It wasn’t until I started visiting them and seeing the impact they were having on kids — particularly low-income kids and students of color — that I realized that my mind needed to change,” Morgan said.
Morgan said Kentucky is one of just seven states that does not allow charter schools in some form.
SB 176 passed on a 6-4 vote with all four Democrats voting no. It now goes to the Senate floor, where the Republican majority is expected to pass it.
But it then will head to the House Education Committee, where its journey for the 2013 legislative session is likely to end.
In sum: While Louisville struggles to find the political will among its own lawmakers to bite the bullet and take care of its neediest citizens, put them in homes and provide a stable foundation for their education, Republican state lawmakers are busy pushing the for-profit agenda of charter schools as a panacea to low-achieving schools — a panacea that, in reality, doesn’t work. And it’s not like both GOP and Democratic state lawmakers give a damn about local autonomy, either.
LEO asked the co-president of the affordable housing advocacy group CLOUT, Chris Kolb, about the perpetually looming charter issue relative to the housing needs of students in failing schools.
“(Housing) is crucial,” Kolb said. “Only 25 percent of homeless students graduate from high school. So you’re talking about handicapping our school system so that it doesn’t have any possible chance of success for tens of thousands of students. That is an issue we have to get under control right now.”
The council has less than two weeks to pass the ordinance to meet the requirements of the next fiscal year.