Yesterday Republican leaders in the House and Senate announced their solution for the brewing class size controversy. The plan (HB 90) will keep class sizes as they are in the 2018-19 school year and then phase in the new caps over four years, until the 2021-2022 school year. The phase -in is intended to allow schools more time to deal with the impacts of lower class sizes.
In addition to providing more time the bill also allots $245 million over the next four years – about $61 million per year — to fund approximately 3,500 Program Enhancement Teachers (e.g., art teachers, music teachers, physical education teachers) at public and charter schools. Some feared the new class size requirements jeopardized funding for personal enrichment teachers. Republican leaders say the bill will provide funding for all Program Enrichment Teachers.
Several other provisions in the bill are also worth noting.
Democrats won’t likely be thrilled about a provision that distributes the $57.8 million in funding the Governor’s office received from Duke Energy and Dominion Energy as part of the approval process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to local school districts through which the pipeline crosses. Governor Cooper’s office said the funds collected as part of ACP were scheduled to be used to lessen environmental damage, promote economic development and advance renewable energy initiatives. Republicans have questioned the legality of requesting the funds as part of the permitting process and say it’s hard to call the fund anything but a “slush fund.”
Another provision included in the bill adds a 9th seat to the merged eight-member state elections and ethics boards. This comes after the State Supreme Court sided with the Governor and gave him more discretion over appointments to the merged board. According to the legislation, the 9th seat will be an unaffiliated voter and will be selected by the four other Republican and Democrats on the combined board.
Finally the bill also makes changes to simplify eligibility criteria for those applying for the state’s new ESA program. The changes also allow those currently accessing the Disability Scholarship to also apply for the new ESA program.
HB 90 will be voted on in the Senate today and in the House early next week.