Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee on September 15, 2021. Kingsbury Middle School in Berclair neighborhood of Memphis. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)
On Tuesday, a controversial bill allowing Germantown to take over Shelby County schools in their district was amended to include tighter restrictions if both parties were unable to reach an agreement by next year.
On April 4, HB2430 passed despite outcries from Memphis Democrats that forcing Shelby County schools to cede four properties to Germantown would fail to benefit Shelby County Public School children.
On Tuesday, lawmakers amended the bill to concur with its Senate companion, which passed on April 11.
I know it’s not your intention but there's not much in terms of consequences for this bill that doesn’t scream pre-Brown vs. Board of Education.
– Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, of a bill to allow the Shelby County suburb of Germantown to takeover several county schools
Amendments included changing the effective date to Jan. 1, 2023, and while both parties will still have until July to reach an agreement, if they fail to do so, the property will be transferred to the municipal district it is located in.
Germantown city officials have sought to acquire the property for almost a decade but have been unsuccessful, leading Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, to sponsor legislation allowing schools to be operated by the “county they are bound to geographically.”
But Memphis officials have resisted efforts to remove the school properties from Shelby County, with Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, arguing that the bill would lead to the “resegregation” of Shelby County schools, which consists of 74% of Black students, according to U.S.News. By contrast, Germantown City’s population is 89% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“This is one of the most disappointing bills since I’ve been up here. I know it’s not your intention but there’s not much in terms of consequences for this bill that doesn’t scream pre-Brown vs. Board of Education,” said Hardaway, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court decision leading to the desegregation of U.S. schools.
“This bill takes the Shelby County school children out of Germantown unless they get permission from Germantown to go to a Germantown school,” he added.
White responded that while the bill sought to prioritize the children already living in Germantown, both parties had to come to an agreement.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, argued that the bill essentially allowed for a takeover of Shelby County schools, which would be forced to agree with Germantown city officials’ terms and may not include terms allowing Shelby County schools to have access to Germantown funds to replace the schools.
“Chairman White, if you own property would you want to be handcuffed to another person under some piece of legislation that says you can’t even sell your property to a private entity unless the other party agrees to it? Do you think that’s fair to Shelby County?” said Parkinson.
Rep. Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova, said he’s received messages from parents upset that their children would be unable to attend Germantown schools once they leave the jurisdiction of Shelby County.
“This is between Shelby County schools and the mayor of Germantown, and frankly, when it comes between the two, i think we should definitely take the side of kids and education and not interrupt their education by sending them to schools not of their choice but to schools which they do not want to go to.” said Thompson.
HB2430 is headed to Gov. Bill Lee for final approval. Once signed, the Shelby County Public School system has until next year to decide what to do with properties located in Germantown, but will have to do so in agreement with Germantown.
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