Class size mandate a political slight of hand

Before state lawmakers deliver another serious blow to public education, we urge them to think carefully about what they are doing, particularly when it comes to unfunded mandates that tie the hands of school officials and, in the end, take away important aspects of student learning.

Impending legislation dealing with K-3 class sizes (House Bill 13) would mandate that the number of students per classroom be reduced in those grade levels. On the surface that is a great idea. Students learn better when they are afforded more one-on-one time with teachers; public schools are given an opportunity to be more competitive with private schools which, by virtue of lower enrollment numbers, provide those smaller classes; and educational success often rises.

The problem with smaller class sizes in public schools is this: lawmakers aren’t sending any more money along with the mandate. And therein lies the slippery slope that legislators will leave educators on if HB 13 gets a final nod from the House and Senate.

Smaller class sizes mean there will be a need for more teachers, and a need for more teachers and, in many cases, more space, quickly becomes the necessity for more funding.

Simply put, school systems like Clinton City, Sampson County and neighbor Duplin County can ill afford to add more teachers to their staffing rolls anymore than they can afford to add more classrooms or build more schools within the confines of the money they currently have. In most cases, schools are stretched thin in the finance department from year to year with the current class sizes they have.

If HB 13 becomes law, and with no more money coming their way, educational administrators will have to make very tough decisions, likely lowering the ax on programs that aren’t required in the learning process, most particular arts and physical education programs which lawmakers apparently don’t see as imperative to learning.

We disagree. Those programs, and particularly the arts, are vital to the overall growth of children and, in many cases, are the areas in which some students find the most success.

Dropping the ax on them would be detrimental to students, many of whom see their math, science and English skills strengthened by the things taught in their enhancement classes.

We have never been fans of unfunded mandates, whether they are directed at educators, municipalities or other government agencies. That’s merely lawmakers acting as legislative bullies, dictating how things must be run without providing the financial support to see that it is done correctly.

We support smaller class sizes but only if lawmakers are willing to bite the bullet and send along the money necessary to make this work as it should.

Forcing educators to eliminate needed programs that bring student success to lower class sizes for student success is political slight of hand.

We urge lawmakers in Sampson and Duplin, including Rep. Larry Bell and Jimmy Dixon and Sen. Brent Jackson to do the right thing: either give educators flexibility to determine class sizes or mandate the class size reduction and provide the funding necessary to make it a truly successful move.