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NCAE exhorts legislators to fix class size restriction complications

The North Carolina Association of Educators called on lawmakers Thursday to pass legislation that would loosen class size restrictions slated to go into effect next year. 

At a press conference, NCAE President Mark Jewell said the organization supports smaller class sizes and that a better method of achieving that goal is to increase per-pupil funding. 

“One way to help alleviate this problem longer term is to make the kind of school investments needed in the first place. Our elected leaders should have a comprehensive plan to elevate North Carolina’s per-pupil funding to the national average,” he said. “The state’s track record over the past five years has been dismal on this key education investment issue.” 

Jewell went on to say that North Carolina ranks 43rd in the nation when it comes to per-pupil funding. Currently, North Carolina’s per-pupil funding is $8,898, while the national average is $11,943, according to an NCAE press release. 

The class size restrictions passed in the 2016 budget would limit K-3 classrooms to the following teacher-to-student ratios:

  • Kindergarten: one teacher per 18 students
  • First grade: one teacher per 16 students
  • Second grade: one teacher per 16 students
  • Third grade: one teacher per 17 students

School and district leaders have complained that the lack of class size flexibility could force them to eliminate teaching positions in non-core subjects like art, music, PE, and more. Jewell said 4,500 positions could be threatened.

In addition, some districts have said the class size restrictions amount to an unfunded mandate because schools will have to provide additional facilities to accommodate extra classes. The cost for facilities is funded locally, and only a small part of funding comes from the state in the form of lottery money. 

House Bill 13 would loosen the class size restrictions passed in the 2016 budget. The measure passed the House but is not yet slated to be heard in the Senate. 

Tamika Walker Kelly, a music teacher from Fayetteville and region 6 director for the NCAE, spoke at the press conference and said that her subject, as well as those of other extracurricular teachers, is essential. 

“These classes and skills are core subjects that stand with and integrate with other core subjects to teach college and career readiness,” she said. 

And Jewell said the manner in which the class size restrictions were enacted was too chaotic to be effective. 

“NCAE and our educators are supportive of smaller class sizes, but you cannot do it haphazardly and in a way that jeopardizes the kind of education and the kinds of schools that our students deserve,” he said. 

Earlier this month, Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, co-chair of the Senate Education/Higher Education committee, said the Senate is investigating the class size restriction issue.

“We have asked school districts to provide data on where state dollars that were designated to reduce class size were being diverted,” he said in an email. “We will need to fully review that financial information before we can make an informed decision on whether school districts’ choice to divert these funds away from class size reduction was appropriate. After that, we will determine what needs to be done.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.