A state Senate panel will consider Monday night a bill that school districts say is needed to prevent thousands of potential teacher layoffs and cuts in art, music and physical education classes in North Carolina elementary schools.
The Senate Education Committee’s agenda for Monday’s 6 p.m. meeting in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building was revised late Sunday night to add House Bill 13, legislation which school officials say is needed for them to have class-size flexibility to maintain arts and PE programs. Monday’s discussion comes after Senate leaders, who questioned how school districts were spending state money, put the bill on hold for two months.
School officials have been urging state lawmakers to quickly pass HB 13 because they’re building budgets for next school year. The bill’s consideration Monday comes less than a week after several hundred people rallied on the Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh to demand that the Senate quickly approve House Bill 13.
State lawmakers lowered maximum class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students as part of last year’s budget. School officials say the change, which goes into effect in the 2017-18 school year, removes their flexibility to pay specialists such as art, music, foreign language and physical education teachers out of the state dollars provided for regular classroom teachers.
Many school districts have supported HB 13, which would reduce K-3 class sizes to as few as 22 students. Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said the district would need $1.8 million more to hire 32 additional teachers if HB 13 passes, compared with $26 million more and 460 extra teachers if the new rules go into effect.
The bill was unanimously passed in the House in February, but it stalled in the Senate, where it was not put on a committee meeting agenda for consideration for two months. During the time the bill was in the Senate Rules Committee, Senate leaders asked school districts to fill out a survey answering how they have been using the state K-3 class size money.
Pressure has intensified in recent weeks with school districts, which are working on their 2017-18 budgets, talking about funding the new K-3 teachers by eliminating arts programs. They may lay off many specialized teachers who don’t have the needed state certification to teach regular K-3 classes.
Fears escalated last week when Merrill said options in Wake to deal with the class-size change include increasing class sizes for older students, cutting art and music classes, laying off teachers and reassigning students. He said Wake might also have to put as many as 40 students in K-3 classrooms with two teachers to try to comply with the new state requirements.