In a response of sorts to concern about possiblerepercussions of state-mandated K–3 class-size reductions, a Senate committee on Monday night rapidly moved forward a modified bill designed to phase in smaller classes.
The bill, an altered version of HB 13, gives systems more flexibility in reducing classroom size and paying specialties teachers in the school year that begins in July. In presenting the bill, Senator Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said that the General Assembly will create an additional allotment for music, art, and physical ed teachers in the 2018–19 school year, after the state Department of Public Instruction satisfies legislators that money sent to districts is being spent as intended.
“The General Assembly has appropriated tens of millions of dollars to fund [smaller classes],” Barefoot said. “Imagine our surprise when we discovered that these dollars have been spent on something else.”
The modified bill, details of which were announced just before the six p.m meeting in a press release from Senate leader Phil Berger’s office, was sent to the Senate Rules Committee by a voice vote with no audible dissent.
Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes said after the meeting that the legislature has not restored school funding to levels seen before the Great Recession. North Carolina school systems’ use of regular teacher pay for art, music, and physical education was permitted by the legislature as a result of that period of shortfall, said Holmes, who questioned Barefoot’s pledge to put money for specialties teachers in the 2018–19 budget.
“If the General Assembly was genuine, why is that funding not written in with the bill?” she asked.
Republicans praised the bill as restoring accountability to the state’s public schools system.
“I believe it will be accepted well in our schools,” said Senator Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican.
Committee members had roughly thirty minutes to scrutinize and debate the bill. Democrats voted for it, but criticized it as falling short of a long-term solution.
“I have concerns that this will just become a stopgap,” said Senator Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake.
Barefoot said the bill would strengthen accountability standards, requiring superintendents to submit regular reports on how teacher-pay allocations are used, with those who knowingly submitted inaccurate reports subject to penalties.
North Carolina school district superintendents, including Wake’s, had repeatedly asked for relief from the class-size mandates, but the first version of HB 13, a bill that would have supplied it, had been sitting in a House committee since February.
HB 13, in its modified form, would require school districts to:
• For the 2017–18 school year, set a district-wide average class size of twenty students in grades K–3 (larger than the mandate that would have gone into effect in July) and a maximum of twenty-three in any one class.
• For the 2018–19 school year, set a district-wide average class size in grades K–3 of sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen—representing the teacher-to-student ratio currently mandated and funded by the state, along with a single-class maximum of three above that number.
“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,” says a press release announcing the change. “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.”
Katherine W. Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators, endorsed the modified bill.