Senate Democrat to file fix to North Carolina class size crisis

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake

A Wake County Democrat will take the first crack at fixing North Carolina’s class size crisis this year.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a member of the state Senate’s education committee, confirmed to Policy Watch that he will file legislation intended to offer local school districts flexibility over how they distribute students in grades K-3.

“The dispute about class room sizes is not a partisan issue,” said Chaudhuri.  “It’s an issue caught in the middle of a dispute between the House and the Senate.  Unfortunately, it’s our children who have been caught in the middle.  And, it needs to stop now.  That’s why we need to pass this bill now.”

Chaudhuri said his bill will be similar to the original version of House Bill 13, filed last year by several House Republicans. The original legislation allowed for school districts to exceed the maximum class size average and individual class sizes mandated by the state.

The proposal arrives with pressure mounting on state lawmakers to address a 2016 legislative order that school systems trim class sizes in the early grades. General Assembly Republicans behind the mandate say they want to improve the quality of instruction in K-3, but school district leaders say the directive will wreak havoc in systems across North Carolina.

Critics say lawmakers must approve additional funding for classroom teachers or offer greater flexibility. Otherwise, they say districts may be forced to nix Pre-K programs, move students into mobile classroom units and lay off thousands of arts, music and physical education teachers to make room for more “core” subject teachers.

However, Democrats have had little success in moving their bills in the GOP-dominated General Assembly in recent years.

An estimated 200 or so protesters rallied for legislative action Saturday in Raleigh, blaming GOP lawmakers for the K-12 headaches.

“The fact that legislators claim that they didn’t intend the consequences of their class size law, but have still refused at every turn to fix this issue, is inexcusable,” said Renee Sekel, one of the organizers of Saturday’s grassroots protest.  “It is wrong for parents to have to beg for their children not to lose critical educational opportunities, while hard-working, committed teachers face losing their jobs, because the General Assembly is careless.”

So far, House Republicans have been more receptive to a class size compromise than their Senate colleagues. Indeed, Rep. Craig Horn, an influential Union County Republican who co-chairs the House education committee, told Policy Watch last week that he believes the legislature will offer a “reasonable solution” in the coming weeks.

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