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Wednesday February 1st

NC Governor Roy Cooper neither vetoes nor signs class size bill

<p>Governor Roy Cooper was the keynote speaker at the University Day ceremony on Oct. 12.</p>
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Governor Roy Cooper was the keynote speaker at the University Day ceremony on Oct. 12.

House Bill 90 was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly Feb. 13. The legislation extends the time NC schools have to cap the size of their classes.

But Gov. Roy Cooper said that he would not sign nor veto the bill, according to the News & Observer. 

The bill demands class sizes for grades K-3 be reduced over the next four years. The smaller the class, the more individual attention each student will receive. N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, who voted against the bill, said this attention is crucial because in early childhood kids are first learning how to master important skills like reading and math.

The legislation was originally set to be implemented in the fall of 2018, leaving schools scrambling as to how they were going to reduce class sizes in time. Many were fearful that they would have to make cuts to their art, music and physical education departments in order to hire the newly required traditional teachers. 

Taking these concerns into account, HB 90 provides over $60 million to pay for art and PE teachers specifically. Many schools, however, are still unsure how to cap class sizes. 

“There are several reasons why this is harmful legislation,” said Jeff Nash, Chapel Hill-Carborro Schools spokesperson. “One, a district our size would need an additional 40-some-odd teachers. Imagine Wake County, I mean, it would be in the hundreds. This bill did come with some funding, however, once you do the math and start dividing that among the 115 school districts, I’m not quite seeing how it’s going to pay for that many teachers.”

Meyer said the bill's sponsors are using a different funding formula for art, music and physical education teachers than used for other teachers. 

“So it’s not an exact one-to-one replacement of the amount that is will cost to lower class sizes," Meyer said. "Some schools may still end up with fewer teacher positions because of that.” 

The bill also neglects to account for the shortage of teachers available in North Carolina. Across the state, students are enrolling in teaching programs less and less as North Carolina continues to fail to provide teachers with adequate pay and job security, Nash said. 

“We have a teacher pipeline shortage problem in North Carolina,” Meyer said. “To create something that is going to demand more teachers without actually addressing in any significant way our shortage of teachers is just very short-sighted.” 

HB 90 also fails to contribute the necessary funds needed to build more classrooms, trailers and buildings as class sizes decrease, Meyer said. 

"There is no money for that, and that tax burden is going to get passed down to local residents who will have to have their property taxes increase in order to afford the additional space," he said. 

HB 90 also includes a provision to change the composition of the Board of Elections, as well as to redirect a $58 million fund from the energy companies building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The fund was originally negotiated by Cooper to go towards mitigating possible negative effects of the pipeline by funding environmental protection and economic development. HB 90 has attempted to give that money to the school districts that the pipeline will run through. 

“We were supposed to come in and do this class size fix, but the Republicans constructed the bill so that it had poison pill provisions,” Meyer said. “These provisions were unrelated. If you have a bill about class sizes, there’s no reason to have a provision in there about the state Board of Elections, or the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. So they packed all these different elements in because they knew they’d have enough votes to pass it no matter what.” 

Nash said the bill's controversial policy has led superintendents and educational leaders to take action by convincing legislators that it's bad policy. 

"The fact that they pushed it back a few years helps, however, I think they are still going to be getting a lot of pressure over the next couple years to make foundational changes,” he said.

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