- The House unanimously approved a bill to allow local school districts the option of modestly exceeding class-size restrictions passed last year
- School districts complained that they couldn’t afford the more restrictive class-size requirements
- Class-size restrictions made at the state level should be scrapped anyway, in favor of giving local educators more discretion to determine class sizes
Late last week the House unanimously approved (114-0) legislation (HB-13) to give school districts additional flexibility to deal with the impact of new class size reduction requirements scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2017. The bill allows districts the option of exceeding those class size requirements, allowing average class size in grades K-3 to be 3 students larger than the requirements passed last year.
Under legislation approved last year, average class size for grades K-3 was scheduled to be reduced from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students, depending on the grade. In the past, school districts had been able to make average class size slightly larger than the state requirement. Districts used the flexibility to pay for teaching positions in non-core instructional areas such as physical education and language instruction. Because last year’s changes would have eliminated district flexibility to hire additional teaches in non-core areas, they generated growing opposition from school districts.
School officials say without the changes, districts would be forced to hire additional staff and build or lease additional classrooms to comply with class size requirements. Wake County estimates the changes would cost schools $320 million.
Do I think there might be some inflated numbers here? Yes. Other Republicans are not so eager to embrace HB 13.
Some Republicans like Rep. Jimmy Dixon are concerned that – come election time — Democrats will turn around and accuse Republicans of increasing class size – as they did in 2012, pointing out yet another example of how Republicans hate public education.
Of course Republicans could respond with why they voted to increase class size. However, doing so would probably produce little more than puzzled looks and wouldn’t likely help anyone understand how Republican actions actually helped local school systems.
If the optics suggest Republicans increased average class size, I fully expect Democrats to use the issue … Of course, the best way to head off any accusation is by showing – at least in the House – the Senate has not received the bill yet – Republicans and Democrats both supported the legislation, unanimously.
Politics aside, let’s face the real reason why the issue emerged: the decision to double-down on class size requirements and eliminate flexibility for local school districts. The truth is class size requirements are an outdated form of trying to distribute resources and staffing. To think that all districts, schools and teachers should have the same ratios denies the fact that districts, students and teachers are all different, with different strengths and needs. Class size ratios shoehorn administrators into a uniformity that lacks justification. Teachers, schools and school districts all need flexibility. Who better than local principals and superintendents to know the differences among students and the ability of teachers to manage and instruct a classroom?
Left unspoken in this debate is that all too often local districts, superintendents and school boards don’t want the flexibility and responsibility that eliminating directives from Raleigh would bring. It is often easier to blame it on the legislature or Raleigh than to make decisions locally. The recent pushback by school administrators against a proposal to give locals flexibility in paying school principals is a case in point. Instead of embracing the freedom to pay people as they saw fit, local officials opposed the idea because it would mean negotiating contracts or pay inequities. Local school officials need to exercise true leadership and initiative to solve our problems and not merely cultivate an I illusion of power, without the responsibility.
Let’s abolish class-size requirements. No, this will not lead to hundreds of children packed in classrooms. School officials know how many students can optimally be in different classrooms. We need to trust teachers and school officials to make those decisions. The current class-size ratios need to be scrapped. The ratios improve neither academic achievement nor economic efficiency and is ill-suited for many. If we don’t trust teachers and school officials to run our schools and classrooms based on their understanding of what is best for our children, why do we put them in a position to do so?