A compromise bill that state legislative leaders say will reduce class sizes but not lead to cuts in elementary school arts and physical-education programs this year now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
A revised version of House Bill 13 that delays major class-size reductions in kindergarten through third grade to 2018 was approved Tuesday morning by the Senate Rules Committee. School districts said the reductions, which were to go into effect for the 2017-18 school year, would take away their flexibility to fund arts and PE classes.
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 said the change removed 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.
In response to concerns raised by districts, the House unanimously passed House Bill 13 in February to restore flexibility. But it stalled in the Senate for two months while lawmakers asked superintendents how they were using the state money intended for reducing K-3 class sizes.
The lack of action in the Senate resulted in school districts warning they might have to cut arts and PE teachers to help fund the cost of hiring the new K-3 teachers. Several hundred people rallied Wednesday on Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh to urge the Senate to quickly approve HB 13.
In a deal announced Monday by Senate leader Phil Berger, the new lower class sizes will be phased in now to go into effect in 2018. Legislators said they’d also look at how to fund teachers in subjects like art, music, drama and PE “to ensure a smooth transition to smaller class sizes.”
The bill’s new wording also says superintendents would be required to submit regular reports on class sizes, total numbers of classroom and special subject-area teachers and how they’re funded. State schools Superintendent Mark Johnson would be authorized to audit districts and penalize those who submit inaccurate reports.
The compromise bill was approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee.