Near the end of 2017, the General Assembly of North Carolina mandated smaller classes in grades K-3. This was the start of the single largest policy issue facing North Carolina schools, students and families.
While no one argues with decreasing the classroom to a smaller size, lawmakers failed to provide funds for school districts to hire new teachers for these classrooms. This would force school districts to face the possibility of eliminating thousands of art, music and physical education teachers in order to fund additional classroom teachers. The General Assembly also failed to provide funding and time to build extra facilities to place these new classrooms.
Recently a GOP senator from Wake County reported that he believes state lawmakers will offer “relief” in March. As reported by Bill Ball of NC Policy Watch, Sen. John Alexander, who co-chairs in the Senate Budget committee, wrote an email last week that said, “We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state to ensure that any fix is amiable to all.” Sen. Alexander continued and wrote that the relief comes after “much discussion, research and hard work over the last several months,” although he offered no insight on any such plan.
Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and and state Democrats are urging Republican Legislators to help school districts deal with state-mandated K-3 smaller class sizes, but legislators have said a deal is not coming soon.
Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and House education committee co-chairman, said lawmakers have been meeting to find a solution that will work amicably for most people, though not everyone will be happy. Based on his meetings with senators, Horn believes that the Senate is willing to reconsider their strategy that is being used to lower class sizes.
The House has been willing to provide relief to this crisis by pushing the changes until another year, although Senate Republicans have been giving pushback and saying that smaller class sizes are needed in the schools now in order to help younger students. Since 2014, local school districts have received roughly $222 million to lower class sizes.
Wake County school officials have estimated that to hire 431 classroom teachers at schools would cost $24.1 million. This doesn’t include costs of other actions that schools need to implement such as limiting the number of students who can go to specific schools, converting art and music rooms to regular classroom spaces, etc.
As school districts start planning their budget for the next school year, Senator Cooper said action is needed immediately and not when short sessions start in May.
“We need to take the pressure off school districts now so they can do their jobs,” said Cooper in an interview with the News and Observer. “Let’s help them phase into new class size requirements over time so that students and teachers don’t suffer. Let’s make sure they get the funding to do this.”