Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

Everyone saw this coming when Republican lawmakers rammed through their ill-considered scheme last spring, but as a fine editorial in the Sunday Greensboro News & Record reminded us yesterday, the negative impacts of the plan to mandate smaller classes in grades K-3 without actually providing funding to do it are now taking their toll in our public schools.

This is from “Where is the money for smaller classes?”:

“The state legislature set requirements both for smaller average class sizes in grades K-3 and caps on how large any individual class could be, but it provided no resources to make that happen. Perhaps lawmakers thought there would be no cost. They quickly heard otherwise — so forcefully, in fact, that they delayed enforcement of their provisions from 2016 to this school year, when partial compliance was required.

At their retreat last weekend, Guilford County school board members heard from staff that it cost $8 million to meet this year’s mandate of 20 children per K-3 class, on average, and no more than 24 in any class. The bill will be much higher next year if the legislature keeps its promise to require a sharper class-size reduction in 2018….

Schools can save money if they eliminate enrichment classes and teachers, or let classes in higher grades grow larger, which would allow them to move teachers from upper grades to lower ones. The legislature put no restrictions on that. But robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t a fair or effective strategy, although it may be a necessary one given insufficient resources.”

The editorial goes on to note that this is just business as usual for legislative Republicans who love to fund statewide tax cuts (mostly for the rich) by shifting responsibilities onto local governments. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Finding funds isn’t the only problem created by the class-size order. Compliance is difficult. If a class has its absolute maximum of 24 students, it only takes one child to transfer in to a school to push it out of compliance. Often, classes have to be rearranged in mid-year, which can be an unsettling experience for all students.

As an abstract idea, holding classes in primary grades to fewer than 20 students is a winner. In practice, it’s less than ideal if the classroom teacher loses a teaching assistant, if there’s less time for music or art instruction or if two classes have to be combined and a room designed for 25 children ends up with 38 students and two teachers, producing a crowded and chaotic environment.

And pity the poor middle school teacher who has classes of 30 or more students by herself because more resources have to be shifted from her school to elementary schools.

The solution to this dilemma is simple: The legislature should fund its mandate. With more than $1 billion stashed in reserves, the state can afford to put money behind its policy. In fact, it has an obligation.”

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