Cooper signs class size fix into law

Posted April 27, 2017 5:50 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2017 6:33 p.m. EDT

— Less than two hours after final legislative passage, Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed into law a measure designed to ease the impact of mandatory reductions in class sizes in early grades.

The 2016-17 state budget put hard caps on class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, starting in the 2017-18 school year, to emphasize lawmakers' push for smaller classes to improve student performance.

But school administrators said accommodating the extra classes the caps would demand would force them to either hire more teachers and find more classroom space or lay off teachers in non-core areas such as music, art and physical education to free up money and space.

House Bill 13 was designed to solve the problem by easing off the caps to provide school leaders with some flexibility in setting class sizes and using state funding for teachers.

The measure passed the House two months ago but languished in the Senate, creating anxiety among teachers and parents of students over whether schools would have to cut non-core classes next year.

The Senate crafted a compromise plan to phase in the caps over two years, with lawmakers saying they have been paying districts for years to hire more teachers to lower class sizes and want to make sure the money is used as intended.

State education officials will spend the next year reviewing exactly how districts spend their teacher funding.

After the Senate approved the proposal Tuesday, the House agreed to the Senate changes Thursday afternoon.

"We are going to fund the class size reduction and make sure the money is going to flow," House Speaker Tim Moore said. " It's a great compromise. The (North Carolina) School Boards Association, the teachers, all the administrators are in support of it, so it's great. That's why it passed overwhelmingly on the House floor."

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson called the measure "a temporary reprieve from a no-win situation."

"We do not need to choose between the kindergarten teacher and the art teacher. We need both," Jackson, D-Wake, said in a statement.

Both he and Cooper blamed Republican tax cuts for putting state education funding in a bind.

"While this legislation addresses immediate concerns, the failure of legislative Republicans to properly fund our schools has risked the jobs of educators and jeopardized our children’s future," Cooper said in a statement. "It’s imperative that we quit kicking the can down the road. Instead of continuing to offer tax giveaways to millionaires and giant corporations, I urge legislators to work with me to invest in our schools and make North Carolina a top-ten educated state."