The state House Education K-12 Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday morning that would modify the current class-size requirements for K-3 classes – a measure some thought would be the source of friction at the legislature between Republicans and Democrats.
The bill (House Bill 13) increases the maximum amount of students allowed in a class by three students for kindergarten to third-grade classes, raising the limits from 16-18 students to 19-21 students, depending on the grade.
Under current law approved as part of the 2016 budget adjustment, beginning in the 2017-18 fiscal year class sizes would be limited to 18 students in a kindergarten class, 16 in a first-grade class and 17 in both second- and third-grade classes.
The bill is meant to patch an issue in the budget that laid the class-size reduction on schools without increasing funding for increased teaching staff, which could have forced the reduction of classes such as physical education and arts classes.
HB 13 would at least temporarily ease the requirements, but legislators have vowed to find a long-term solution. Perhaps for that reason, instead of being a contentious piece of legislation the bill had the full support of the committee and many education advocacy groups.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) is running the bill in the House, which was first brought up in special session last year. McGrady said that the bill is an attempt to offer more flexibility to the school districts and that the legilsature’s ultimate focus is still on reducing class sizes for students, especially in the lower grades.
“I don’t believe it’s true, really factually accurate, to say that this will increase class sizes,” McGrady said. “We are really more going back to what we have now. I think everybody, when we passed the budget, wants to move to smaller class sizes, especially in the lower grades.”
Jennifer Hawthorne, with the Fiscal Research Division, said the bill takes the state “back to what the State Board of Education recommended and had been implementing for many, many years, which is three students more than the allotment ratio for the average size and then three more for the maximum size.”
Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin) said that the bill is a straightforward piece of legislation meant to fix an issue that arose after the budget was passed and should not be viewed as anything other than an attempt to help educators in the state.
“The explanation that we got right (on the bill) here would belie any political attempts from the news media or other people who have such an appetite for politicizing things like this to understand that what we’re doing is a sincere attempt to reinstate historically what educators have been asking for, and that should belie any attempts to turn this issue into a political issue, but of course it won’t. We will see [in news accounts] that ‘we are increasing class sizes,’” Dixon said.
Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) joined Dixon in support of the bill and working together outside of political differences in the interest of North Carolina educators and students.
“I hope as a Democrat we can leave politics out of everything we do in this committee. I support the bill, and I know NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators) – I talked to NCAE this morning – supports the bill, the [State] Board of Education supports it,” he said. “I know this is a fix for right now so I’m hoping we can have a conversation about what we can do long-term to fix this.”
A vote to pass the bill through the committee and send it off to the Appropriations Committee passed unanimously in a voice vote Tuesday morning.
The Education Committee is made up of 35 legislators: 25 Republicans and 10 Democrats.