State Politics

New NC class-size rules could cost schools $388 million more a year, report says

New state-mandated smaller class sizes in elementary schools will cost North Carolina school districts as much as $388 million more per year in operating costs as well as significant capital costs, according to a new report.

Districts will need to find between 3,000 and 5,400 teachers to comply with smaller kindergarten through third-grade class sizes, which the liberal N.C. Justice Center’s Education & Law Project says is the equivalent of an unfunded mandate of between $188 million to $388 million.

Districts will also need to have more physical classrooms, which the “Class-Size Chaos” report says will often lead to elementary schools housing students in trailers and “other less-than-ideal temporary classrooms.”

“Every dollar invested in class-size reduction is one less dollar that could be spent on other initiatives that might have greater educational impact,” according to the N.C. Justice Center report released last week.

Lawmakers lowered maximum K-3 class sizes starting in the 2017-18 school year. School officials around the state say the changes remove 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.

Wake County school officials estimate it would cost $26 million more in local money to hire 462 additional K-3 teachers without eliminating elementary school art, music and PE. School officials plan to have more discussion about the impact on the district at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“Absent General Assembly action, districts are scrambling to meet the requirements by initiating layoffs and eliminating enhancement teaching positions in subjects like art, physical education and music,” according to the new report.

Many school districts have supported a compromise bill, House Bill 13, which they say would provide them with enough flexibility to continue to spread money around to offer the special classes. The bill was unanimously approved by the House but has stalled in the Senate.

Senate Republican leaders have questioned whether money sent to school districts for reducing class sizes has gone to other areas of the school system.

On Wednesday, Save Our Schools – NC Parents for HB-13 will hold a rally from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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