State Politics

Legislators look to raise class size cap to avoid cuts to PE, arts classes

One of the first bills filed in the N.C. House Wednesday addresses a class size reduction that school districts said could force them to cut arts and physical education classes.

State legislators had reduced maximum class sizes starting this fall in kindergarten through third grade. Under the current law, maximum individual K-3 class sizes will drop from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students, depending on grade level, and the maximum average class sizes for school districts would be even lower. The mandate didn’t come with extra state funding to hire more teachers, so Wake County school officials said it could cost $27 million in local money to avoid laying off arts and PE teachers.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who leads House education committees, had admitted that the reduced class size mandate that was included as part of last year’s state budget was “not as fully thought through with regard to unintended consequences.”

Legislative leaders are now looking to tweak the mandate and allow larger class sizes.

House Bill 13, sponsored by Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, would cap individual K-3 class sizes at 22 to 24 students, depending on grade level. Maximum average class sizes would range from 19 to 21 students.

Leanne Winner of the N.C. School Boards Association says her organization supports McGrady’s bill.

“It’s trying to create a middle ground,” she said. “It is not a 100 percent solution for all districts. There may still need to be some adjustments at the local level.”

Winner said the adjustment needs to be made quickly. “If we don’t get this resolved by early March, (school boards) are going to be starting their budget process with their county commissions,” she said.

North Carolina doesn’t separately fund specialists such as arts and PE teachers so school districts pay for them out of state dollars for regular classroom teachers. The reduction in maximum class sizes limits the flexibility that districts have to spread money around for special classes.

The bill is identical to legislation that was passed by the House in the December special session but not acted on by the Senate.

Legislative leaders say the new class size bill will be one of the first on the agenda during this year’s session, which began Wednesday.

“There are a number of members who have been working very diligently on that in the House and the Senate,” said House budget writer Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican. “As soon as that legislation is ready, we’ll be taking it into the Appropriations Committee and moving forward.”

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