Raleigh, N.C. — A Senate committee on Monday evening approved a compromise that would allow for the reduction of class sizes in kindergarten through third grade while addressing local school leaders’ concerns about the consequences of implementation.
A provision in the 2016-17 state budget requires smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade beginning in the 2017-18 school year, but district leaders said meeting those requirements would require hundreds more teachers and millions of dollars.
Wake County school Superintendent Jim Merrill has said options to meet the new requirements include laying off teachers in classes like art, music, drama, physical education and dance. Currently, the district employs more than 350 teachers for those subjects.
House Bill 13 could relax the impending class size requirements, allowing school districts’ average class size to exceed caps by up to three students and individual classrooms to go over by up to six students, if needed.
Sens. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, David Curtis, R-Lincoln, and Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, have proposed changes to House Bill 13 that would phase in the implementation of class size reductions over the next two school years.
Under the compromise, school districts must have an average class size of 20 students for kindergarten through third grade and a single class maximum of 23 students for the 2017-18 school year.
In addition, average class sizes for kindergarten through third grade must meet the teacher-to-student ratio of between 16 and 18 students per class, depending on grade level, by the 2018-19 school year. A single class maximum would be capped at three additional students.
“We've been working on this issue for months. We are pleased to finally arrive at this solution that we believe gives administrators, teachers, parents and students certainty about what will happen next school year while making sure taxpayers are getting the smaller classes they've paid for," Barefoot said.
A press release from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that local school districts have received $152 million to lower class sizes since 2014, but not all districts have used the funds to create smaller classes.
To ensure tax dollars are used to lower class sizes, superintendents would be required to submit regular reports on class sizes, the total number of classroom and special subject teachers and funding sources.
The bill calls for the state superintendent of public instruction to conduct periodic audits of those district reports, and districts that knowingly submit inaccurate information could be subject to penalties.
"I commend the NC House, NC Senate, and the superintendents across North Carolina on working for a positive compromise that has our students as their shared top priority. Now, we all must confront that this debate highlights the need for greater transparency and modern data systems that accurately count and report teachers and class size. Together, we can stop debating the facts and instead focus on solutions," said North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson.
North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewel said that, while the compromise temporarily addresses the concerns of school leaders, it does not offer a long term solution a bigger problem.
"Clearly, this compromise solves the problem for one year, but it does not address the problem, which is the long-term solution that North Carolina and the General Assembly are chronically under funding North Carolina's public schools. We're 43rd in the nation right now," Jewel said.
House Bill 13 will need to be approved by another committee before it heads to the full Senate.