Class size changes worry local educators

May. 23, 2013 @ 03:49 PM

Language in the proposed Senate budget could effectively lift maximum class sizes for students in grades kindergarten through third.

Under the section that deals with the allocation for teachers and class size, the word “maximum” has been struck from the maximum class size section. The section now says that “Local school administrative units shall have the maximum flexibility to use allotted teacher positions to maximize student achievement.”

It then strikes out language dealing with the maximum class size and student-teacher ratios.

Now, the ratio for kindergarten is one teacher for every 18 students. In first through third grades the ratio is one teacher for every 17 students, according to the state superintendent for public education’s weblog.

Kim Hargett, president of the Union County Association of Educators, said they were disappointed, but nor surprised by the senate’s proposal. Though, she said they were caught off guard that the North Carolina Association of Educators seems to be the only group speaking in opposition. 

“We’re wondering if the shiny promise of more flexibility perhaps blinded some of the superintendents and administrators groups...it blinded them to the fact that now their teacher allotment could be cut drastically,” Hargett said. 

Most of the teacher funding comes from the state level, Hargett explained. When systems submit their student numbers the state creates a teacher allotment from those numbers, based on class-size ratios. State-paid teachers are based on the student population number. 

Hargett and others worry that lifting a class size cap will allow for fewer allotments. 

“Hopefully they will not do that and it will not be that drastic, but if you follow the wording, it is a possibility,” Hargett said. 

In addition to the allotments, Hargett was worried about the quality for students.

“All the studies and anyone that has looked at what has worked and what has not worked (shows)...if we can get the students on track early, the mark they look at is by that second or third grade year, we really need to have them on track at that point,” Hargett said. “Otherwise, you end up spending more money with interventions later.” 

She and other educators are also worried about losing teacher assistants. Hargett noted that impacts class size as well. 

“In those early grades, when you can have a teacher assistant, when you have a class that is 20 students to 22 students, when you have a TA in that class, you automatically cut that ratio in half,” Hargett said. “When we talk about getting students on grade level...you need those small groups to figure out exactly what’s going on with certain students...it is in those small groups and those one-on-one settings and the small group settings...that is what allows the educator to pinpoint exactly where the child is having trouble.”

Hargett said that when the class sizes are lifted, there is a greater likelihood that kids could fall through the cracks. 

The NCAE is concerned with other aspect’s of the proposed budget. In addition to the size limits, it is concerned about the lack of a pay raise, the elimination of higher-level degree pay, the teacher assistant cuts, making the discretionary cuts permanent and ending all teacher tenure. 

The budget passed through the Senate and is being discussed in the House. 

Hargett hopes local government leadership will advocate for the schools. 

“All politics is local and the Union County Public Schools system, it’s the best school system in the state and you will hear that...we are really hopeful that the Union County representatives are going to take a real leadership position to say that we know what a stellar public school system looks like, it is in my home county and this is how you do it,” Hargett said. “We are really hopeful that our Union County representatives are going to take a front and center leadership position in advocating for quality education.”