NC House votes to make class size more flexible

H.B. 13 would change a previously enacted average class size mandate after school districts complain of costs

RALEIGH — Among the bills moving through the N.C. House this week was H.B. 13, legislation that would give school districts more flexibility to meet average class size requirements issued as part of the most recent state budget. Instead of requiring schools to meet the exact number on the basis of average class size, administrators get a three student cushion in meeting the mandated average.It passed the House unanimously Thursday on its way to the N.C. Senate, championed on the House floor by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson).”An unintended consequence of the mandate was that it took the flexibility in terms of spending money away from the LEA’s [Local Educational Agency] rather quickly, and frankly they couldn’t adjust that quickly to the change that was reflected in the budget,” said McGrady.Due to lowered class size mandates, many districts were facing large costs for the construction of additional classrooms and personnel changes. Wake County, the state’s largest school district estimated that with out this bill they would need to build up to 400 additional classrooms and teachers at a cost of $64 million.”In Henderson County the mandate would require schools to fire or remove from higher grades approximately 48 teachers and would probably require the the hiring of additional personnel which the county estimates would cost about $2.5 million,” said McGrady.The Henderson County Republican doesn’t typically focus on education issues, acknowledging as much when he spoke on the bill. However, as the majority pushes initial pieces of 2017 legislation, those close to the majority’s agenda say that McGrady’s relationship with both sides of the aisle adds credibility to a bill that appears contrary to recent initiatives to lower class sizes statewide.The discrepancy was not lost on House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), who spoke at length against what he called a false choice. He argued the state should fund the added costs for lowered class sizes outright before ultimately voting for the bill.”My point in speaking was that the choice between higher class sizes and cutting the arts, music, PE, and other vital school services is a lose/lose situation,” said Jackson. “If you support public education, there is no good outcome. I voted for H.B. 13 because it was the better of two bad options. “Others, like Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Roxboro) argued that the whole issue was unnecessary.”I don’t know why we’re deciding class sizes in the state legislature,” said Yarborough. “It sounds like a good idea to have smaller class size but we end up needing to build more classrooms. We end up diluting the teachers down and going to quantity instead of quality in our teachers.”Yarborough did vote for the bill because, “It does fix a problem that was caused by us monkeying around with the class size in the first place.”