On Thursday, February 16, NC lawmakers passed House Bill 13, or HB13, which allows public schools to be able to control the sizes of their K-3 classes.
The NC House quickly approved the bill in order to avoid a GOP-led bill that planned to cut funding for art and physical education classes. Most lawmakers agreed that although HB13 would not solve all problems of educational funding, it was a step in the right direction.
While the bill does not let public schools fully control their class sizes, each school is allowed to have an average class size three students higher than the state average. This helps lower the costs and prevents the schools from spending money on expansion.
Mandates set a few years back that required schools to lower their class sizes forced school districts, such as Wake County Public School System, to spend millions of dollars. Wake County spent $64 million dollars on the construction of over 400 classrooms and the hiring of teachers. The mandates did not have as significant an effect on rural school districts, but still lead to the expenditure of millions of dollars.
Few legislators adamantly opposed HB13, due to students now having less individual attention in the classroom setting. The bill passed though, only because it was better than its alternative: to defund arts and physical education classes.
“The choice between higher class sizes and cutting the arts, music, PE, and other vital school services was a lose/lose situation,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). “If you support public education, there is no good outcome. I voted for H.B. 13 because it was the better of two bad options.”
Some legislators expressed their extreme frustration with the situation, such as Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Roxboro).
“It sounds like a good idea to have smaller class size but we end up needing to build more classrooms,” said Yarborough. “We end up diluting the teachers down and going to quantity instead of quality in our teachers.”
Yarborough said he only voted for the bill because it fixed a problem that was caused by legislators tinkering with class size in the first place.
If implemented, the bill would be set in place starting in August of the 2017-2018 school year.
HB13 still has to be passed by the state Senate, where many members are skeptical. The bill, while bringing some financial relief to public schools, may harm students’ potential in the classroom. Decreased personalized attention combined with an increase in the amount of distractions fuels much of the debate over HB13. If the Senate chooses to pass the bill, it will at least act as an economic aid to North Carolina’s school districts.