Oh, it sounded good, these new rules from the General Assembly ordering smaller class sizes for students in kindergarten through third grade. But as has been the case with so many plans from Republican lawmakers, the grand design came without enough money to make it practical.
That means school systems including Wake County are having to find ways to deal with the larger classes for older students that are likely to result from the rules. More classroom space will be required. And, classes for those older elementary students might have to be bigger, which is not good for productive learning.
It is of course virtuous to have smaller classes for younger kids. But lawmakers apparently figured to toss the details and the financial burden to local school systems and the counties that fund them. That was irresponsible.
And it was very nearly hurtful indeed. Had the class-size reductions gone in on schedule instead of being postponed for a year, school systems would have had to find the additional teachers needed for young students from those faculty positions devoted to art and music. Just like that.
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Parents let lawmakers know they didn’t think much of that, and some of the more in-touch legislators apparently either got the message or got scared by it to the point of putting off action. But that doesn’t mean they answered the need for additional teachers. And they should be providing that money.
But the problem is chronic under Republican leadership: Thanks to excessive tax cuts to benefit business and the wealthy, their budget for public education is not flexible and is further complicated by the tens of millions of dollars going to parents to help them pay for private schools under the Republican voucher plan. That program drains money from public schools and is driven solely by right-wing ideology and the GOP’s disregard for conventional public schools, which some of them see as a liberal entitlement.
So parents who think arts and music programs, so valuable to students and enriching in many ways, are safe, better think again. They’ll be on the block soon enough as the realities of an absurd budget come clear.
Meanwhile, Wake County is like many systems, having to figure out how to fit more students into smaller spaces, even with more schools scheduled to be built. The county is running short of classrooms and an additional 2,500 students anticipated by 2021 isn’t going to help.
It should not matter, of course. The public education system dating to 100 years ago transformed North Carolina and opened the way for opportunity for higher education for literally millions of people. The only formula that should be employed when it comes to that system should be: How many students are there going to be and how much classroom space do we need to provide? To that lawmakers should only vote “aye.” There should be no other alternative.