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Lawmakers nearing agreement on class size fix

Posted January 26, 2018 6:08 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2018 7:18 p.m. EST

— Lawmakers are in serious negotiations to work out a deal on a class size mandate that school districts say they cannot afford to carry out.

The General Assembly two years ago passed legislation capping class sizes in kindergarten through the third grade, starting in the 2018-19 school year, saying the smaller classes would boost student achievement. But school leaders say the move will require extra teachers and more classrooms – both would require additional funding – or will force them to cut non-core classes, such as art, music and physical education.

The caps have already started creating what critics call class size chaos as schools divert resources from later grades. Some fourth- and fifth-grade classes have 35 students in them, meaning some students have to sit in hallways because they can't fit into their overcrowded classrooms.

House lawmakers voted unanimously last year to allow school districts some flexibility in class sizes, but Senate Republicans have repeatedly refused to consider it – until now.

"I'm pleased to say that we are making some progress on negotiations as far as the student-to-teacher ratio issue that a lot of people are concerned with," House Rules Chairman David Lewis said Friday.

Continued protests by parents and teachers, along with a nonstop barrage of calls and emails from both groups, have Senate leaders reconsidering their opposition.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, one of the Senate negotiators, said she understands the urgency because she has a child in public school.

"I'm razor-focused on that issue, and I'm talking daily with my colleagues about it, and I'm looking for a comprehensive solution. So, hopefully, we will have one and have one very soon," Barringer said.

Lawmakers are taking a break until Feb. 7 while they wait for court rulings in three different lawsuits involving voting maps and election laws. But negotiators said they're continuing to work in the meantime, and they're hopeful they will have a deal by then that they can send to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, said he hears every day from teachers and parents who want a fix sooner rather than later.

"This is really putting a lot of pressure on our local school boards and on our county commissioners," Woodard said. "They need to plan ahead. They just can't make these decisions, particularly hiring and space decisions, in June."