Opinion

Kids or not, all have stake in resolving class-size chaos – Mary Kolek and Willie Taylor

Mary Kolek
Mary Kolek

When HB13, a bill entitled: “An Act to Modify the Maximum Average Class Size Requirement and Individual Class Size Requirements for Kindergarten Through Third Grade” was introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives, it wisely afforded school systems flexibility in meeting the prescribed numbers of 18 in kindergarten, 16 in grade 1, and 17 in grades 2-3.

As the bill worked its way through the Senate, this flexibility was removed and became law in 2017, with implementation scheduled for the 2018-19 school year. Unfortunately, this mandate did not include additional funding or appropriate timelines for developing the staffing, facility and program resources needed to ensure successful long term implementation. Staffing and budget cuts made over the past several years exacerbated the problems created by this legislation.

Over the course of the past year, communities and parents have repeatedly detailed the depth and breadth of negative consequences being wrought by this law. Some of these include: reduction or diminution of enhancement programs including arts, music, physical education, health, and student services in order to shift limited resources to K-3 classrooms; expelling of pre-K programs housed in public schools to make room for additional elementary classes; capping enrollment and assignment of students to schools farther away from their home school; increasing class sizes in upper grades or elimination of low enrollment courses in upper grades; use of facilities not designed to support the grades or classes that will need to be assigned to them.

The consequence list for communities may vary but the ultimate outcome is the same. None of these consequences contribute to creating or sustaining world-class schools, and in fact result in a below standard PK-12 experience for students who ultimately will determine the prosperity and well-being of our communities and nation.

Given the current bill the first step in addressing the concerns being raised is, “What is the real issue HB13 is intended to address and is HB13 the best solution?” If indeed the concerns noted above are “unintended” consequences to well-meaning legislative action, then the evidence presented to the GA is sufficient to secure a reprieve, allowing for further study and thorough planning. If these consequences were anticipated – and thus intentional – then the only conclusion to draw is that they are punitive in nature and that students, families and educators are acceptable collateral damage

How to prevent these consequences is an urgent question as planning for next year is already well underway in districts across the state. What can you do? Contact your representatives, especially your senator, and tell them the class-size chaos can be addressed by one of these actions:

1. Legislators can revert to the Original HB13 which allows school districts the flexibility to address class size reduction while avoiding reductions of arts, support and upper division staff as well as providing time to address facility issues

OR

2. Legislators can immediately REPLACE HB13 with a new bill that has a more realistic timeline and an expanded funding process (including capital funding) for reducing K-3 class sizes that does not impact other grades or academic programs.

This issue affects each of us: Whether you have children in the public schools or not, the ability of North Carolina schools to provide each child with a quality public education experience is a basic and vital pillar on which our democracy was founded.

Mary Kolek, Ph.D., and Willie Taylor are co-chairs of League of Women Voters of NC Public Education Action Team.

What’s next

Legislation that would give North Carolina elementary schools more time to reduce class sizes was approved Friday by the state Senate, but Democratic lawmakers complained about the fix being tied to changes in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline fund and election boards.

There was bipartisan support for the education portions of the bill that include more funding for pre-kindergarten programs and phasing in the K-3 class-size changes that school districts said they couldn’t implement this fall. But with Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democrats balking about the non-education portions, Republican lawmakers questioned how anyone could vote against the class-size fix.

House Bill 90 was approved by a 37-5 vote. The bill now goes to the House, which will vote on it Tuesday. Cooper has criticized the bill but hasn’t indicated if he will sign or veto it when it gets to his desk.

Staff writer T Keung Hui

  Comments