Taylor: Class size bill is a ‘win’ for school systems

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

A measure that will fix an upcoming public school dilemma will take effect in the fall, but it will sit on the governor’s desk before it officially passes.

Last week, the N.C. House and the N.C. Senate both passed House Bill 90, an effort to mitigate the implications of a previous law requiring North Carolina schools to lower their class sizes.

When H.B. 13 passed last year, school and district leaders across the state — including Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor, who serves on the statewide board of superintendents — cried foul and urged legislators to phase in the requirement that class sizes be lowered in grades K-3 from 24 to 17.

“One of the things we’ve tried to inform the General Assembly about is … if we invoke legislation, we would need more funding for those positions,” Taylor told the Bladen County Board of Education recently. “Many districts also had issues with not enough class size to accommodate (the change).”

Introduced in Feb., 2017, House Bill 90, informally known as the Class Size Bill, will delay the lower student-teacher ratios that were set to take place in the fall by H.B. 13. Under H.S. 90, class size in grades K-3 for the 2018-19 school year will be capped at 23 students, followed by 22 in 2019-20 and 21 students in 2020-21. For the 2021-22 academic year and each year following, caps will be applied as follows: 18 students in kindergarten, 16 students in first grade, and 17 students in grades two and three.

“We see this as a tremendous win for school systems in North Carolina,” Taylor remarked.

If it’s a win, it applies not only to classroom teachers, but also to enhancement staff. Under the initial law, approximately 35,000 art, music, and physical education positions were slated to be cut in order to fund the additional classroom teachers that would be needed by the decreased class size. H.B. 90 phases in $60 million over four years for enhancement teachers.

“What that means for Bladen County … is they would give us approximately 9.5 enhancement teacher positions,” said Taylor.

Rather than dollars, the allotments are for positions, which Taylor said was the preferable situation.

Bladen County currently has 12.5 enhancement positions and funds all of them.

The bill sits on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. He has publicly stated he will neither sign it, due to the unrelated sections regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the N.C. State Board of Elections, nor veto it, because of the benefits to education. It will, however, become law in March, since the N.C. constitution dictates a bill neither vetoed nor approved by the governor is ratified by default.

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Other provisions in HB90

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Though the bulk of HB90 pertains to education, other sections have been the source of political tug-of-war between the Democratic governor and the GOP-controlled General Assembly. The bill includes a section that targets Cooper’s power by altering the state elections board composition, an issue currently in litigation.

In a political power play, Republicans added the changes to the education bill two weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cooper’s challenge. With the passage of HB90 in March, the decision on whether the new law complies with the state Supreme Court ruling may be be in the hands of a lower court.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also addressed in the bill, which mandates the school districts located in the counties directly impacted by placement of the ACP receive benefit of any funds provided or gifted for the benefit of the state as a result of the ACP. Cooper had previously reached an agreement with utilities companies to mitigate the impact on wetlands and other environmental resources, but Republicans claimed he had no authority to direct the funds and stipulated the money go to education in the affected counties.

Democrats in the House and Senate disapproved the changes unrelated to education, but begrudgingly passed the bill because of its benefit to education. Cooper called the impact to education “too important” to let the bill die.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal