RALEIGH — Legislation that would eliminate limits on class sizes in North Carolina public schools passed the state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
Republican legislators backed the bill, Senate Bill 374, saying doing away with limits on class sizes will allow each school district to decide how best to spend state funding for teacher positions. But Democratic lawmakers say the bill will cause districts to assign more students per teacher, moving the state’s public schools away from the academic benefits gained by having smaller classes.
“This bill does not do anything to raise the class size,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican who is a primary sponsor of the bill and co-chairman of the Education Committee. “In fact, it gives you the flexibility to put your personnel, if you choose to do so, where you most need it.”
The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill would formalize changes made in 2009 that dropped class-size limits in grades four through 12 and gave school districts more flexibility to transfer funds. But for the first time, the bill also would drop restrictions that limit class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 24 students in individual classes.
Research has shown that student achievement improves in smaller classes – especially when the numbers drop to between 15 and 17.
Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators, urged legislators Wednesday to test the elimination of the K-3 class size limits in some school districts rather than make it apply to all 115 school districts. He added that the bill could go into effect at the same time that Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed eliminating funding for teacher assistants in second and third grades.
“We’re going to see class size go up in K through three, and there will not be a teacher assistant in the classroom to help with the size of the class,” he said.
But Leanne Winner, a lobbyist for the N.C. School Boards Association, said her group and the N.C. Association of School Administrators back the bill because it gives school districts flexibility in how they spend their money. She said that districts may opt to lower the class sizes in some subjects but raise them in others.
Winner’s sentiments were echoed by Tillman, who said local school administrators should decide how best to use their finite pot of money to raise student achievement. He said that the success of these schools will be measured in the new A through F letter grades that will be given to assess their performance.
“If you have 13 or 30 (students), I couldn’t care less,” he said. “I do care whether you make progress or not.”