Raleigh, N.C. — Despite emails, letters, calls and rallies by educators and parents, legislative leaders said Tuesday that they have no plans to discuss during their special session this week helping school districts meet class size caps in early elementary grades.
In 2016, lawmakers required smaller class sizes for kindergarten through third grade. Those reductions were partially implemented this year, and parents and teachers say it's draining resources from other students – fourth- and fifth-graders are being crowded into classes of up to 40 students in some places.
School administrators and parents want to put the caps on hold for next year, noting that fully implementing them would likely mean teacher layoffs in non-core subjects and the cancellation of classes such as art and physical education.
Senate Republicans say that should not be necessary, arguing that they have given schools adequate funding to meet the mandate.
"To be fair, the General Assembly has been giving money to reduce classroom sizes over the past couple of years, and it just wasn't happening out there in our schools," said Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "So, part of the bottleneck that you're feeling is that superintendents in many districts did not reduce the classroom sizes or hire additional teachers when they should have with the money that we gave them."
School officials say they have used their state funding as wisely as possible, but add that it hasn't been adequate – North Carolina ranks 42nd nationally for per-pupil spending. They want lawmakers to give school districts more class size flexibility.
Barefoot and Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee, said they are gathering information about the problem and will propose a fix in the regular 2018 legislative session later this spring, but not this week.
"The schools have told us that they start to make hires in March and April – that's preferable to them to start to hire people then – and so we feel like we've got the time," Barefoot said. "We totally understand some of the concerns out there, but we want to make sure we get this right."
"Is there a magic answer? No. Are we going to find that answer this week? No. But we need to find out something, and we need to figure out something," Horn said. "My own view is that flexibility is a good thing."
House lawmakers last year unanimously passed a measure permanently restoring class size flexibility, but Senate Republicans refused to consider it. Instead, they passed a temporary fix for the 2017-18 school year.