Generally speaking the new bill loosens up class size requirements for one year, but also places additional reporting and transparency requirements on school districts. Under the proposed legislation, class size requirements, initially set to go into effect this year, would be delayed until the 2018-19 school year. The new bill must still be approved by both Houses but that seems more likely now.
The changes are welcome news for many school district officials and teachers. The higher class size requirements will restore the flexibility school districts enjoyed and that allowed them to fund art and physical education teachers. Under the compromise version of HB 13, that flexibility is short-lived. Hopefully, a better long-term solution about class size and how we fund teachers can be worked out in the interim.
It’s difficult to add anything new to an issue that’s already received extensive press coverage, but I’ll offer a few observations.
First, this issue tells us we need to have a larger discussion about class size. If local school districts want us to trust them to and give them flexibility to make the best budget decisions, why can’t we trust them and give them even greater flexibility regarding class size? The truth is not all schools, teachers or students are the same. Class size requirements deny that reality and puts a straightjacket around schools. Do we not trust teachers or principals to be able to figure out the optimal size for different classes?
Second, let’s also recognize that this discussion was also about transparency. I’ve always said it shouldn’t be difficult to learn how a school district or school spends its money. Anyone however, who has tried to access budget figures for how much a local school spent on teachers or the math department will soon discover it’s a close to impossible task. There is no good reason why this information shouldn’t be readily available online. Had it been, no survey of school administrators would have been necessary and the issue would have been resolved long ago.
Third, it is amazing that the implications of this provision weren’t on anyone’s radar when provisions were inserted into last year’s budget bill. Yes, it’s true that Rep. McGrady had a bill ready to address some of the problems at the start of this legislative session. However, it appeared most legislators were unaware of the impact of lowering class size ratios. Yet another reason for why we need to revamp how public education is financed. There are too few people who actually understand how schools are funded and where the money flows.
Fourth and lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has grown tired of the hyperventilating by education groups. Yes, next year’s budget has to be planned. But schools have been going through this ugly exercise of not knowing funding levels before budget is passed for years. Most appalling however were the organizers of last week’s HB 13 rally on Halifax Mall. They seemed to have no reservations whatsoever about inserting kids into the middle of this debate. Kids were recruited to hold signs, chant slogans, make speeches and who knows what.
It makes you wonder what was — or wasn’t going on — in the classroom.