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With thousands of teacher jobs at stake, class funding bill bound for full Senate vote

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

Members of North Carolina’s state Senate appear poised this week to hear a last-ditch reprieve for school districts [1]warning of drastic consequences should a state mandate on K-3 class sizes go into effect in August.

Lawmakers in the Senate Rules & Operations Committee [2] gave their approval Tuesday morning to a deal announced Monday night that would, for at least one school year, head off thousands of layoffs among elementary arts and physical education teachers. [3]

The revisions to House Bill 13 [4], led by Sen. Chad Barefoot [5], R-Franklin, Wake, would, however, direct districts to impose similar crackdowns on class size in the 2018-2019 school year, potentially setting up another funding crisis next year.

An official with the N.C. Association of School Administrators [6] (NCASA) told legislators Monday that the organization, which lobbies for school district chiefs at the legislature, supports the deal, provided lawmakers deliver on a pledge to reconsider funding streams for specialty teachers next year.

Monday’s compromise bill includes no specific language guaranteeing that pledge, although Barefoot said GOP budget writers need additional data on district’s specialty teacher needs first.

School districts say it is specialty teachers who will likely suffer if the state does not deliver additional funding to offset the costs of new core subject teachers needed to bring class sizes down in K-3.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators rebuffed calls from Democrats Tuesday morning that they slow the phase-in of new class size regulations included in the revised House Bill 13.

Currently, districts can have a maximum of 24 students in a K-3 classroom and an average of 21 students.

The new proposal demands districts trim maximum class sizes to 23 students in 2017-2018 and to 21 students in 2018-2019. Average class sizes, meanwhile, would be slashed next year to 20 students in K-3 classrooms.

But, in the following year, districts would face a stiff mandate that they cut average class sizes to 18 students in kindergarten, 16 students in first grade and 17 students in second and third grade.

Even if the Senate approves the deal this week, it will still require the approval of the state House, which passed a more district-friendly version of the legislation in February.

Timing is key on the issue. K-12 officials point out that school districts need clarity on the issue as they finalize their budget plans in the coming weeks.