Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Legislature needs to stop posturing and fully fund the mandate to cut school class size

Posted February 10

Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina's 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.

A CBC Editorial: Friday, Feb. 10, 2017; Editorial# 8123
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The state legislature’s hand-wringing and hoop-jumping over early-grade classroom size in our public schools is more about avoiding the issue than confronting it.

Last year -- with little public discussion, hearings or input from teachers or school administrators – legislative bosses stealthily injected into the massive state budget bill a mandated cut in how many students should be in kindergarten through third grade classrooms.

It’s not a bad idea. But like much of what the General Assembly’s done in recent years, it was cooked up in back rooms where there is little opportunity or concern to grasp all the consequences – intended or unintended.

Maybe it was as boxer Muhammad Ali might observe, a political “rope-a-dope”: pretending to being doing something for education, but all just creating a legislative mirage.

Whatever. But in this case the consequence is a $300-million unfunded mandate dropped on local school districts around the state – $27 million for Wake County; $23 million in Mecklenburg County; $17 million in Guilford County; and even $2.5 million in Henderson County, the home of Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican who is sponsoring a bill that is supposed to, for the time, solve the problem.

Amid an outpouring of complaints, the legislature’s latest effort dodges the core issue with a non-solution, solution. McGrady’s bill essentially keeps the mandate but adds “local flexibility” allowing class sizes larger than the legislated limits -- rendering the requirement meaningless.

The mandate has put instructional quality in jeopardy as school systems have been forced to contemplate eliminating arts, music and physical education instruction as well as increasing class size in upper grades.

Rather than just kicking this can down the road, pretending to address an issue but really just leaving it to fester, how about showing some resolve and gumption?

And just Thursday, there appears to be some effort to force the legislature to take some substantive action. Several of the state’s top business leaders announced an effort to focus on getting early learners to better grasp basic skills and implement systems to track progress and enable early intervention for students who are facing challenges. The objective is to make sure that school children show they’ve grasped, by the end of the third grade, the ability to read well.

The state’s members of the Business Roundtable, led by SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, N.C. AT&T President Vanessa Harrison –who is also vice chair of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, say they’re going to meet with state leaders to press their agenda. We want them to make sure they bring along N.C. Chamber of Commerce President Lew Ebert to demonstrate to legislators the business community is united, determined and demands legislators provide the funding needed for top quality education. Adequate won’t cut it.

They can start by backing a simple solution to the class-size challenge: Fully fund the mandate! Pay for the educational upgrade for North Carolina’s youngest students so by the third grade they are capable readers and won’t be left behind.

It would require about 6,000 teachers statewide – including 48 more in McGrady’s Henderson County.

The state has the money.

There is $1.6 billion in the state’s “rainy day” fund. Even Noah wouldn’t put a dent in all that. If public education and cutting class size to improve reading and other basic skills is a priority, there’s no better way to show it.

And for those who might be jittery about the spending, the state’s revenue forecasters just this week predicted the state budget surplus will exceed $552 million.

Just as a quality education system is the top driver for economic development, reducing class size – giving teachers greater opportunity to focus on individuals – is the basic ingredient to improving student performance.

Legislators need to do the right thing. If they are serious about doing something to improve education, and not just paying lip service, they must fully fund their class size mandate. Any less sets schools up for failure and dooms our students to mediocrity.

3 Comments

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  • William Sherman Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    The article calls for yet more funding for our schools in order to reduce class sizes. Problem is that for several years now the state has been kicking in more and more money supposedly ear marked for that purpose. Yet, the reductions in class size have only been minimal or non-existant. As a retired teacher with 27 years in the classroom, I watched all this extra money coming to the school system, yet it suddenly is sucked into that black hole called the educational bureaucracy. The only result coming from that extra money is the creation of an added level of bureaucracy at the local and state levels. The State and local levels receive plenty of money to reduce class sizes, provide supplies and textbooks, etc but its how that money is utilized that is creating the problems. Can anybody tell me what a Director of Accountability is?? Or a Director of Testing? State mandated testing is required generally twice a school year. What do they do the rest of the time???

  • janash Feb 10, 2017

    While it is great that WRAL is calling for the state to step up and fully fund this mandate, there are still two other problems that funding wont address: there are not enough qualified, certified teachers available, nor is there anywhere near enough classroom space. Wake, for example, would need ~480 additional teachers. They don't exist. That would also require enough physical classroom space to fill eight new schools. Not happening. Principals would be forced to put multiple classes in the same room or convert libraries, art rooms, etc. to classroom space. All bad options. So while it would be great to see the state provide the funds, there are other problems that need to be addressed first. Let's get teacher salaries to a level that will actually aid in recruiting rather than deter. Let's reinstate a teaching fellows program that gets great candidates into the pipeline. Perhaps there are a few budget-neutral, creative solutions that would build the status of the teaching profession

  • Catherine Edwards Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    Another article today has Raleigh as a top place to move. If we don't have a good educational system here then people will go somewhere else.