State legislators led by Republicans ordered lower maximum class sizes, which on the surface sounds virtuous. But inadequate school funding means that school districts all over the state may have to eliminate arts and physical education programs to find the money to meet the class size mandate.
Rather than fix the problem by appropriating more money, GOP leaders in the Senate apparently are content to leave the reductions in place and leave school districts to find the estimated 3,000 to more than 5,000 new teachers needed to lower class sizes to what Republicans initially wanted. And the teachers would be only part of the expense. There would need to be more schools and more operating money, perhaps close to $400 million a year. Wake County schools, for instance, estimates that it will need an additional $26 million to meet the smaller class size requirement.
Local school leaders have tried to preserve arts and PE classes by paying teachers for those subjects out of state money appropriated for regular classroom teachers. But if thousands more of those regular teachers are required to lower class sizes, the arts and PE programs will be sacrificed —and Republican leaders, who’ve made public education a target, certainly aren’t going to step up with hundreds of millions of dollars for conventional public schools (they’d rather put it in vouchers).
Already, there are demonstrations from parents demanding the preservation of arts and physical education, and there will be more. A House bill has offered a solution that school leaders say will help with more flexibility to preserve arts and PE, but it’s stuck in the Senate, and Phil Berger, the leader of that chamber, appears unwilling to bend. But the senator may yet see some angry parents at his door holding violin bows and clarinets under his nose.
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Republicans have shown themselves to be out of touch with average working families, but they’re going to find out just how out of touch if those families lose arts and PE programs that help their children stay interested in all school subjects and enrich their lives. Imagine that mother who takes her child to school with his violin in tow only to be told that there are no more music classes.
What sounds good in that Republican caucus, all that rhetoric about vouchers and school choice and the like, doesn’t ring so well on the ground back home, when children are denied something on which they’ve come to depend, something that has inspired them and brought them joy.
In the end, these programs will be preserved, when reality hits the Senate leadership. The shame is that those leaders are making parents and teachers battle to keep classes that are a basic part of education.