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October 7, 2020 9:35am

Why GLI supports the JCPS tax plan to improve education

This article first appeared in The Courier Journal on October 6, 2020. 

A thriving public education system that excels at cultivating exceptional homegrown talent in all corners of our community is not only what Louisville deserves but what our city needs for a successful future. More than ever, during these times of uncertainty and great pain in our city, we all must come together and work toward that goal. For business leaders in Louisville, this means committing to continued, and even accelerated, investment in public education.

Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce, is intimately familiar with the challenges facing the business community as a result of the global pandemic and the fight for racial equity. We see the challenges. We feel them. And we have worked aggressively to confront these challenges head-on. GLI’s members have kept the local, national and global context front-of-mind throughout our year-long discussion about the proposed JCPS tax increase, which will be on the ballot in November. There is never a good time to raise taxes. But the needs of our children, families and community are too great and the costs of not increasing our investment in public education are too grave. Consider some of these key facts:

  • More than 60% of students in JCPS qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
  • More than 5,000 students are homeless or are experiencing housing insecurity.
  • JCPS has more than $1 billion dollars in facility needs.
  • There are more than 20 school buildings in JCPS with significant renovation needs or are at end of life.

On top of these challenges, employers in Louisville continue to struggle to find the top talent and homegrown workforce they need to grow our economy. For these reasons, business leaders have consistently voiced their support for generating additional community resources dedicated to supporting student equity and success.

Louisville’s business community has a history of partnering with Jefferson County Public Schools. We are proud of our joint successes, like the Academies of Louisville and the impacts of career and experiential curriculum to improve student outcomes and transition-readiness. GLI has also provided specific feedback to help improve district outcomes, operations and accountability, like our positions on teacher incentive pay to improve recruitment for low-performing schools and improvements to the principal selection process. Even with these advancements, we recognize more must be done to close student achievement gaps and increase educational equity — both of which require increased investment and resources.

GLI’s support of this ballot initiative was paired with the strong recommendation for JCPS to clearly pledge resources for deferred maintenance of facilities, new construction of schools, investments in career and technical education and additional support for vulnerable student populations. All these priorities must also be accompanied by cost-saving measures and increased efficiencies to maximize every penny for student needs.

GLI was glad to see the JCPS Board take those exact steps and communicate their priorities last month.  Through a resolution, district leaders laid out the particulars of how the $54 million of community investment would be prioritized.

  • At least $15 million for 21st century facilities that engage students and faculty;
  • At least $15 million for resources in our highest need schools;
  • At least $12 million for racial equity initiatives; and
  • At least $12 million for additional student instructional time.

This is a bold and responsible road map for optimally leveraging taxpayer dollars to support student success and equity. We commend the board for taking this important step and will also work to hold them to their commitment.

As has often been said, we will indeed get through the challenges we are facing today. But “getting through” is not enough. We must come out the other side stronger and with the resolve to change our city for the better. Investing in public education to strive for a more equitable future and a more competitive homegrown workforce is a key step in making sure that happens.