State Senate passes class size compromise bill

class_size_bill

Public school children protest passing the HB13 bill during a protest in Raleigh on April 19.

This new version of the bill would not require cuts proposed in the first bill — but it would limit kindergarten through third-grade classes to 23 students. The old version would have mandated class caps of 18 students for kindergarten, 16 for first grade and 17 for second and third grade.

The revision does not include funding for schools to be able to comply with the class size mandate — raising concern that classes such as music, physical education and art will be cut to afford compliance with the mandate.

N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement that the compromise would preserve the Senate’s long-standing goal of reducing kindergarten, first, second and third grade class sizes and address local schools’ concerns about potential consequences.

“The proposal would also strengthen accountability measures to ensure state tax dollars intended to reduce class size are used for that purpose,” the statement said.

Rob Schofield, director of research at N.C. Policy Watch, said the old bill was designed to give schools relief with meeting the mandate — but after the Senate amended it in committee, it will now only delay the mandate for another year.

“There are concerns that this Senate compromise bill really doesn’t have any guarantee that they’re going to provide relief to the school districts, it’s just sort of pushing the mandate out another year,” Schofield said.

He said the best solution to the mandate is funding.

“If you don’t have the money to hire new (teachers), you have to get the money somewhere else and the best they can come up with is then to get rid of these specialty teachers,” Schofield said. “The best thing to do would be to just give the school districts the money.”

Yevonne Brannon, chairperson of Public Schools First NC, said there was supposed to be language in the new version of the bill about funding for 2018, but those changes are not there.

She said there needs to be another amendment to put the money in the budget.

“(Legislators) have to do that because if not, we’re just delaying this for a year and we’ll be right back here again next year arguing ‘Where’s the money?’” she said.

But money is not the only issue in complying with the class-size reduction mandate.

Brannon said school systems will need three to five years to implement the class-size reduction plan because they need time to find and train teachers and to build new classroom space.

Some school systems will have to buy mobile units or build new schools to house smaller class sizes, she said.

“It takes at least three years to build a school — from getting the money, getting the land, getting the contractor, building the school and so forth,” Brannon said.

Still, she said the goal to reduce class sizes is admirable.

“I give high kudos to the senators for pushing lower class sizes,” she said. “But now we need them to be realistic about the time frame and we need them to actually put their words into action by putting it in the budget.”

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