With legislative fix to class size crisis stalling, teacher advocates say thousands of jobs at stake

Orange County parent Michelle Anderson calls on members of the legislature to approve House Bill 13.

An estimated 4,500 teachers across the state may lose their jobs next school year if members of the N.C. General Assembly don’t act on a legislative fix to the state’s looming class size, N.C. Association of Educators President Mark Jewell said Thursday.

“Many of our state public school teachers are on edge about whether or not they will have a job at the end of the school year,” said Jewell. “Living with this kind of fear and uncertainty is not productive for our educators, and it’s not productive for our students and our public schools and our public school administrators.”

Jewell’s comments, along with those of several other teaching advocates who gathered for Thursday’s press conference in Raleigh, come as the momentum for a temporary salve to next year’s funding crunch appears to be dwindling in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

The trouble began after members of the legislature passed a budget directive to K-12 schools last year that they begin cutting class sizes in the lower grades by the 2017-2018 academic year. But without additional state funding or flexibility over how to administer their state allocations, school district leaders warned of major consequences across North Carolina.

Policy Watch reported in November on the drastic cuts school districts across North Carolina would be forced to make should state lawmakers punt on the issue this session.

Without state intervention or serious spending increases from many local governments, such districts could be forced to slash teaching positions in specialty subjects such as physical education, arts, music and world languages, or dip into other funding pools such as teaching assistant funds to cover the shortfall.

With House Bill 13, state House legislators from both parties acted quickly this session to resolve the issue, returning flexibility to local districts that had been used to protect teaching positions.

Yet the momentum for the class size fix has slowed greatly since it was received by the state Senate, a chamber that has oft-times been more critical of the state’s public schools.

Today, it lingers in a Senate rules committee with little indication that it will be taken up soon. Meanwhile, Senate President Phil Berger‘s office has not responded to multiple Policy Watch requests for comment on the legislation this session.

Jewell said Thursday that his organization supports smaller class sizes.

“But you can’t do it haphazardly and in a way that jeopardizes the kinds of education and the kind of schools that our students deserve,” said Jewell.

Members of the teaching advocacy organization also renewed calls for the legislature to address the state’s lagging K-12 spending, pointing out, despite marginal increases in recent years, the state was still mired at 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending in 2015.

“Forty-third in the country isn’t something to brag about, is it?” added Jewell.

Meanwhile, Michelle Anderson, the mother of an Orange County kindergartner with special needs, touted the role of teaching assistants in helping her son in school.

“When teachers have support, they can handle challenging students by attempting to understand them and teaching them new skills rather than just punishing them without understanding the source of the trouble,” said Anderson.

Policy Watch will continue to track House Bill 13 in the coming weeks.

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