Teachers call on lawmakers to relax class size requirements
Posted April 19
Updated April 20
Raleigh, N.C. — Teachers worried that they could lose their job as a result of a law intended to lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade rallied Wednesday afternoon outside the state Legislative Building.
Several hundred protesters at the rally said they are not against smaller class sizes, but organizers said that a provision in the 2016-17 state budget that requires smaller class sizes beginning in the 2017-18 school year will have unintended consequences that will hurt school districts across the state.
Creating more classrooms for students in kindergarten through third grade in compliance with the law means other subjects may need to be eliminated.
On Tuesday, Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said the legislation could lead to layoffs in his school system. Specialty teachers, who teach subjects including physical education, art and dance, would be most affected.
“There is anxiety there because we love our jobs. I’ve got 22 years in with the state and it’s very important and there is anxiety,” said music teacher Paula Clark. "Think about the children and just what you would be taking away from these kids."
Wednesday’s rally, sponsored by a group called Save Our Schools, called on state lawmakers to pass House Bill 13, which would relax some of the smaller classroom size requirements.
The bill would allow school districts’ average class size to exceed caps by up to three students and allow individual classrooms to go over by up to six students, if needed.
Parents who brought their children to the rally are concerned about the impact if House Bill 13 is not passed.
"Sports, PE, art are part of a rounded education," said parent Sandra Turner.
In Wake County, school leaders said the passage of House Bill 13 could save about $24 million.
Protesters pointed out that the consequences of the bill also have a human factor, as many teachers of specialty courses are unsure if they will have a job next year. Many have already begun looking for alternative work.
House Bill 13 is currently stalled in the Senate, but Gov. Roy Cooper said he supports the measure.
"We have to make sure that it's provided for in the budget if we believe that's an important thing. So, some of these actions that some of these local school systems may have to take are really unacceptable," he said.
Senate leaders said House Bill 13 has stalled because they want more assurances on where school money is being spent.
Senate leaders said they're working on a plan that could separate funding for classroom reduction and money for other teachers. Leaders envision a bill that provides class size flexibility with added transparency.
"They need to know that we know where they're using the positions, so you'll see some accountability built into what we do. You will see, I believe, enough flexibility for them to go and make plans without having to release anybody who's presently under contract," Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said.
Tillman, a retired school administrator, agreed schools need answers soon to plan their budgets. He predicts lawmakers will reach a class size agreement in one to two weeks.
"I think we will make it a plan where they can live with it and be fairly happy with what we do," he said.