House committee clears school calendar, class size bills

Posted December 15, 2016

— Public school systems would be able to start their regular calendar year as early as Aug. 15 under a bill that cleared the House Education Committee on Thursday.

House Bill 12 would allow public school systems to align their calendars with local community colleges. On its surface, this would allow students who are taking community college classes to to have a synchronized school year, but the bill would allow any school in the system, from elementary up, to make the switch.

"It's up to your school board how they want to do that," said Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus.

The General Assembly has been the epicenter of massive fights over school calendar laws. Some parents groups and trade groups representing the tourism industry have battled to keep school start dates near Aug. 26. This bill would circumvent that law.

"I cannot support opening up 100 percent of schools," said Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, who is from a coastal area dependent on tourism.

Other members endorsed giving schools more flexibility.

"To me, it's just a good, sensible idea," said Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance.

The measure passed the committee on a voice vote and will next be heard on the House floor.

Class size changes

The committee also cleared House Bill 13, which would roll back planned reductions in class sizes for kindergarten through the third grade. Under current law, the maximum class size for those grades would drop to 19 in the 2017-18 school year, with a maximum average class size would be 16 students per teacher.

That mandate came without more funding from the state. Leanne Winner, director of the North Carolina School Boards Association, said that would leave schools with stark choices that would include cutting specialty teachers who lead art and physical education classes, going to local governments for more funding or raising class sizes in higher grades.

"That is moving that goal post way too much," said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, noting House Bill 13 delays that law.

If the bill passes, the average class size would be 21 students per teacher, with a maximum of 24 students.

Johnson called the measure a "short-term fix." In the long term, committee members said, they hope to give local school districts more funding so they can accomplish the class size reductions.


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