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State House OKs temporary fix to class size crisis, now bound for Roy Cooper

Children getting on a school bus.After months of warnings that thousands of teaching jobs were at stake, North Carolina state lawmakers have approved a one-year respite on K-3 class-size restrictions rankling local school districts.

The state House overwhelmingly approved a Senate rewrite of House Bill 13 that emerged from last-minute negotiations between Republican K-12 leaders and local district lobbyists.

The version approved Thursday, which is now bound for the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, had the support of the N.C. Association of School Administrators.

Lawmakers acted with local districts complaining they needed clarity on the matter while they write budget plans for the coming academic year. 

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Alleghany, Wilkes, called the proposal a “wonderful solution” to the state’s class-size crisis, which had emerged as the most hot-button topic in public school legislating during the early months of the 2017 session.

In addition to easing the state order to slash class sizes next year, the Senate rewrite of House Bill 13 will require regular reports from local superintendents confirming they are cooperating with the budget mandate.

Senate Republicans say they will use data collected from state reports to determine how best to fund arts and physical education teachers, the so-called “specialty” educators most in jeopardy during this year’s funding crunch.

Policy Watch reported last November on districts’ complaints that the state order to cut K-3 class sizes might result in the ouster of thousands of specialty teachers to make way for the new core subject teachers.

Districts also warned of major local costs for schools in need of additional capacity under the legislative mandate.

Throughout the debate, Republican lawmakers suggested districts were misusing their state allotments for teachers. But districts countered that they were deploying their statutorily-granted flexibility to retain specialty teachers in lieu of sufficient state teacher funding.

“We have been funding the class size reductions,” argued Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, one of the bill’s primary House sponsors. “It is understandable that, given the state has been funding them, that many of us are upset that now this comes as some surprise to the boards of education that we were going to move in this direction. But we want to be data-driven here.”

However, while this week’s compromise offers a one-year respite on the class size dilemma, education leaders say they expect similar wrangling over the second year of the pact, which will require far stiffer class size cuts.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

Sen. Chad Barefoot, one of the primary writers of this week’s rewrite of House Bill 13, said lawmakers pledged to revisit specialty teacher funding next year, although legislators declined to offer any written assurances that districts would receive any cash to cover the positions next year.

Superintendents’ reports to the state will be delivered with signed affidavits attesting to the veracity of their class size data, lawmakers say.

Elmore said Thursday those reports will be “critical” in determining what legislators do when it comes to funding specialty teachers.

 

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