Tonight at its 6 p.m. meeting, the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee will discuss a House Bill 13 compromise that would preserve the Senate’s longstanding goal of reducing kindergarten, first, second and third grade class sizes and address local schools’ concerns about unintended potential consequences of implementation. The proposal would also strengthen accountability measures to ensure state tax dollars intended to reduce class size are used for that purpose.
The changes to House Bill 13, proposed by Sens. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake), David Curtis (R-Lincoln) and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), would phase in implementation of class size reductions over the next two school years by:
- Requiring local school districts to achieve a district-wide average class size of 20 students in grades K-3 and a single class maximum of 23 students in the 2017-18 school year; and
- Requiring local school districts to achieve a district-wide average class size in grades K-3 that is equal to the teacher-to-student ratio currently in law and being funded by the state (either 18, 16 or 17 students, depending on the grade level) and a single class maximum of three above that number in the 2018-19 school year.
The phase-in is supported by authors of the original House bill and the N.C. Association of School Administrators.
The current K-3 class size requirements have been on the books for years, and the General Assembly has appropriated tens of millions of dollars to fund them. Since 2014, local school districts across the state have received a total of $152 million to lower class sizes – and every year, they are guaranteed about $70 million in recurring dollars. However, not all school systems have used the extra funding to reduce class sizes, and many systems could not or would not provide data on how they spent the money – choices that led to the concerns about implementation, fears that special subject-area teachers could be fired and the need for a legislative resolution. Legislators have committed to continuing to study and work on funding issues surrounding enhancement teachers in subject areas like art, music, drama and P.E. to ensure a smooth transition to smaller class sizes.
And to ensure state tax dollars intended to reduce class size are actually used for that purpose, the bill would strengthen accountability measures for local school districts, including:
- Directing superintendents to submit regular reports on class sizes, total numbers of classroom and special subject-area teachers and corresponding funding sources, and authorizing the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct periodic audits to ensure accuracy; and
- Requiring superintendents to affirm the accuracy of their reports. Those who knowingly submit inaccurate information could be subject to penalties.
“For years, one of the Senate’s top priorities has been lowering class sizes in the early grades – because the research shows it leads to improved academic outcomes for our students,” said Barefoot. “We’ve been working on this issue for months, and I am pleased we’ve arrived at a solution that gives administrators, teachers, parents and students certainty about what will happen next school year, while making sure the taxpayers are getting the smaller class sizes they’ve paid for.”
“The workforce needs of our state demand the skills that are developed and learned in our program enhancement classes such as art, music and foreign language, and by protecting the teachers that teach these skills, we are protecting our competitive advantage,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), an elementary school art teacher and primary sponsor of House Bill 13.
“The North Carolina Association of School Administrators and our school leader members thank the Senate and House for working with us to identify the most conducive way to lower class sizes in Grades K-3," said Katherine Joyce, NCASA's Executive Director. "The current proposal provides a reasonable timeline for further reducing class sizes, and the additional funding that the General Assembly leadership has pledged to provide for enhancement teachers in art, music and PE will be extremely helpful and appreciated. This is a compromise we are proud to support."