Education, News

Gov. Cooper demands legislative action for state’s class size crisis

Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper slammed General Assembly Republicans Friday for the state’s ongoing class size “nightmare,” calling on lawmakers to take action next week to resolve the looming issues for North Carolina public schools.

“I believe smaller class size can be a good thing, but you have to pay for it,” Cooper said during a visit to a Charlotte elementary school. “This is an artificial class size change—one that shrinks classes on paper but in reality hurts students and teachers.”

Policy Watch has long documented the statewide concerns stemming from a 2016 legislative mandate that the state’s public school districts slash K-3 class sizes. Without additional funding or flexibility from lawmakers, advocates say jobs will be lost, districts will scramble to cover millions in new expenses and students in grades 4-12 will see packed classrooms, amid numerous other concerns.

Rep. Craig Horn, the powerful Union County Republican who co-chairs the House K-12 committee, told Policy Watch this week that, while he doesn’t expect a resolution when legislators return to session next week, he does believe lawmakers will find solutions long before their scheduled short session this spring.

Timing is key. Local finance officers say school budgeting for the next fiscal year begins in earnest in January. School district leaders say they need a long-term solution to the class size crisis sooner rather than later.

Cooper hammered home that point Friday, warning that inaction would jeopardize computer science, arts, music and physical education teachers. Districts may also be forced to shift resources to the lower grades, draining staffing levels in grades 4-12 and packing classrooms with more than 30 students.

“It’s like a balloon,” said Cooper. “You can squeeze one end to make it smaller, but the other end just gets bigger. The students in those classes will get less individual attention, and their teachers will be strained even further.”

As Policy Watch reported Thursday, a group of grassroots protesters will rally to call for action Saturday in Raleigh.

Lawmakers are slated to return Wednesday, although the duration or the nature of the legislature’s talks next week are unknown.

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