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NC parents and teachers push back against class-size law
Unfunded mandate could cost curriculum, jobs
Published Friday, January 5, 2018 11:01 am
by Herbert L. White

An unfunded mandate for reducing class size in North Carolina public schools is drawing resistance.

In 2016, a law requiring reductions for K-3 classrooms went into effect, leaving districts across the state to figure how to comply with the law. As a result, schools have been forced to reassign students, lose teachers and classroom spaces for specialized classes, increase class size in higher grades, or forfeit space for pre-K services.

“In theory, it sounds great,” said Justin Parmenter, a seventh-grade English teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte who is scheduled to speak in Raleigh Jan. 6 at a rally to repeal the mandate. “I don’t think you’d find any teacher who’d argue against having smaller classes. A lot of classes at the school I teach are already bursting at the seams, so it’s hard to argue against smaller class size and that extra one-on-one attention. The problem is it’s expensive and if we have a state that is not willing to make funding education a priority to the degree that it would take to reduce class sizes significantly, then we’re stuck with a whole bunch of consequences.”

Parents and school administrators pushed lawmakers in May to delay implementation until 2019 and provide funding for additional teachers. However, the General Assembly has yet to decide on a spending plan, and districts are scheduled to lose academic programs in the 2018-19 academic year while as many as 5,500 teachers could be fired. State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and co-chair of the House K-12 Budget Committee, said a resolution is in the works.

“The gap is closing,” he told Policy Watch, a progressive political website. “There are folks that are working on a reasonable solution with the session coming as quickly as it is next week” when lawmakers reconvene.

Frustration among parents is rising, said Renee Sekel, the parent of three public school children and administrator of Save Our Schools! NC Parents for Public Schooling.

“I’ve spent the last nine months talking to parents all over North Carolina about this issue, and they are furious” she said. “The fact that legislators claim that they didn’t intend the consequences of their class size law, but have still refused at every turn to fix this issue, is inexcusable. It is wrong for parents to have to beg for their children not to lose critical educational opportunities, while hard-working, committed teachers face losing their jobs, because the General Assembly is careless.”

Said Kristin Beller, a Wake County teacher: “Our schools and districts should not be forced into making a choice between specials and reading. It is this General Assembly's choice to fund the laws they create or not, and if they fail, then we get to make our own choice in 2018.”
Horn said state leaders are aware of parents and school districts, and aren’t likely to delay a resolution until the start of the short session in the spring.

Lawmakers will meet in special session Jan. 10.

“That did not fall on deaf ears,” he said. “I clearly understand the timeline and getting a decision made as soon as possible. The [school districts] are under the gun.”


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