Wake County school board members urged state legislators Tuesday to back off on planned reductions in class sizes that educators say could force them to cut arts and physical education classes.
State lawmakers reduced the maximum size of classes in kindergarten through third grade starting this fall. The move has led to statewide complaints that finding the money and teachers to staff the smaller classes will force districts to consider options such as cutting the arts, raising class sizes in other grades and asking counties to pick up the tab.
“Having smaller class sizes is noble, but we’ve seen what the impact will be on our communities,” said school board member Lindsay Mahaffey.
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee passed House Bill 13, which would give school districts some relief from the class size changes.
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The current state budget requires that districts, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, reduce the maximum average K-3 class size from 21 students to 18 in kindergarten, 16 in first grade and 17 in second and third grades.
Also for the 2017-18 school year, lawmakers had lowered the maximum individual K-3 class size from 24 students to 21 in kindergarten, 19 in first grade and 20 in second and third grades.
Wake County school leaders have said meeting the new class size rules could require 460 additional teachers and $27 million more in local money to be able to maintain arts and physical education classes in elementary schools.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, said it is important to move the bill before the next state budget is approved because local governments need to know what the legislature decides as they work on their own budgets.
“This isn’t a total fix,” McGrady said. “It is a fix that will get us a long way there.”
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where it’s scheduled for debate on Thursday.
House Bill 13 is identical to legislation the House passed during a special session in December, which the Senate did not debate.
Wake school board members told staff on Tuesday to add K-3 class size flexibility to a draft legislative agenda that will be shared with the Wake County legislative delegation on Thursday.
Other items that board members said should be on the agenda include:
▪ Increase funding for more counselors and school nurses, particularly at high-needs schools;
▪ Increase compensation for principals;
▪ Provide school calendar flexibility to at least allow high schools to start earlier in August to match schedules used by colleges and to be able to offer final exams before winter break.
▪ Restore Wake school board elections to the same districts and election cycle that were in place before the General Assembly changed them in 2013. Those new state-drawn maps were declared unconstitutional by the federal courts.