(WHAS11) -- Senate President David Williams, days away from announcing his decision whether he will run for governor in 2011, is taking direct aim at the busing policy of Jefferson County Public Schools.
"We live in a different world now," Williams said, "and it's crucial that we get the kids off the bus and back into the classroom."
Williams spoke on Thursday morning after the Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast, one day after prefiling a bill that clarifies state law and would make illegal the JCPS student assignment plan. The bill would grant students the right to attend the school closest to their home. The school district assigns students to schools based on a variety of factors, including geography, race, income and other demographics.
The Jefferson County plan is a hybrid of a busing strategy first implemented in the 1970's to desegregate schools and struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 because it used race as the main factor in assigning students.
Williams contends that with protections now in place against racial discrimination in housing patterns and other areas, a school system should not be a laboratory for "social engineering."
"Diversity is important," Williams said, "but the most important thing in education is giving a child the best education opportunity and it's crucial that they have neighborhood schools to do that."
Asked to comment, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) said, "I haven't seen the legislation yet, but I certainly favor the concept of neighborhood schools. I always have. I also favor the concept of local control. i sort of hesitate anytime people say I want Frankfort to tell us what to do on a local level."
With Williams mulling a run for governor, the busing issue presents a political opportunity in Jefferson County, where mayor Jerry Abramson - Beshear's running mate has generally been supportive of the JCPS student assignment plan.
"I think it's way too early to be getting into the governor's race," Beshear said.
But that race is taking shape. Agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer says within two weeks he'll announce his plans. Williams has been courting him for Lt. Governor.
"In the right situation, I could be involved and possibility learn more about state government," Farmer said. While stipulating he has the necessary experience to be governor and not ruling out a run for governor, Farmer both appeared to be pointing toward a Williams-Farmer ticket and keeping his options open.
"I think Secretary of State still or some of the other constitutional offices," Farmer listed as options, "but I would be leaning more toward running for one of the top spots."
Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner for seven years, Farmer said he is "trying to decide as a family," and will make the call "after the fair is over."
Farmer also acknowledged that while the University of Kentucky already has an athletic director, that remains his "dream job."
Reporter's Notebook, other quotes on the busing issue:
"I'm not going to criticize the transportation agency. There could have been misinformation but the truth of the matter on the best day, kids are going to be spending too much time on bus and not enough time in the classroom. And that serves nobody's good purpose."
"Folks are more mobile now. Economically, people can buy houses anyway. there's protection against racial discrimination in housing patterns and that sort of thing."
"The most important thing in education is the child and the educational opportunity and parental involvement is crucial. You go to many functions in some schools that are really constituted and there's nobody there in after hours situations or extracurricular activities."
"60 percent - 6 out of the 10 of the worst schools identified in Kentucky are identified in Jefferson County. 18 percent of the students live in Jefferson County but 60 percent of the schools are identified.
We're doing things to make sure that every child, African American, white or any ethnicity has the opportunity to get a world class education here and to be caught up in the past, of some sort of social engineering is just not the right thing to do right now.
Williams hopes to have broad based support - in Kentucky and Jefferson County
Governor Steve Beshear
i haven't seen the legislation yet but I certainly favor the concept of neighborhood schools. I always have. I also favor the concept of local control. i sort of hesitate anytime people say I want Frankfort to tell us what to do on a local level.
But I hope we can work through that. I want to make sure everybody can have a neighborhood school that wants one.
The local school boards and the local people at the schools really know best I think. citizens know best as to what they need in each community.
WHAS11: Do you think the bill is politicizing the process as far as the governor's race next year with Senator Williams filing it?
Oh I think it's way too early to be getting into the governor's race. you know we have a legislative session to go through before that cranks up. and who knows who will be a candidate? the only candidates I know are Steve Beshear and Jerry Abramson..