School systems need help with class size mandate

By John deVille • Guest Columnist

This is a letter I sent to Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. Macon County Schools, Haywood County Schools, and all the other school systems in your district and the state of North Carolina, are bracing for a wave of fiscal chaos to wash over them this coming fall. This chaos can only be undone by you and your fellow senators.

We do not understand why it’s coming and what North Carolina children have done to deserve it.  We are speaking about the class-size cap which was passed in 2016. Your goal was simple and praiseworthy: create smaller K-3 classes in North Carolina. But without the necessary funding for both personnel and for the newly-required classrooms, what was praiseworthy will convert to classroom poison.

  • We will lose art, music, and physical education classes for K-3 students.
  • We will suffer larger class sizes in grades 4-12.
  • Many school systems will have to have 40 first-, second-, and third-grade students in a single room with two teachers in order to comply with the law.
  • School systems will have to eliminate crucial programs in order to finance the class size mandate.

Last spring, the N.C. Senate faced a similar warning from across the state and even from the House. Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, was one of four primary sponsors of a bill to mitigate the damage which would be done by the class size cap. He was joined in passing the legislation by ALL Republicans and Democrats in the N.C. House.

Finally, you and your fellow senators gave us a one-year reprieve, but the chaos watch has started anew. Consider who is saying the class size cap law is bad policy:

  • Every single Republican and Democratic representative in the state House.
  • Your hometown newspaper, The Franklin Press, published an editorial to this effect last April.
  • All 115 school boards and all 115 superintendents across the state have said that this legislation will lead to fiscal chaos in their respective districts. It will cost Macon County Schools a minimum of $350,000 to comply and yet we will still be under water. It will cost Haywood County Schools $1.9 million to comply and yet they will still chop other educational opportunities and suffer larger classes outside of K-3.
  • The NC PTA, which has never stepped onto the political stage, passed a resolution in early January demanding a repeal of the class size cap. 
  • As a former Macon County Commissioner, you yourself frequently denounced “unfunded mandates” — demands passed by the General Assembly which have no funding attached and thus force counties to pick up a tab for a meal they didn’t order. There is consensus from numerous outside sources, as well as from all 100 county commissions, that this class size cap law is indeed an unfunded mandate. Absolutely no credible evidence has been offered that the law has been funded and so your own principles condemn this law as it now stands.

Last spring, we were promised a fix in the fall ... none was forthcoming. In the fall, we were promised a fix in January … none has occurred. And now we are counseled to wait until May, with no guarantees that a solution will come even at that late date, long past the March/April window when county commissions and school boards put their finishing touches on the upcoming year’s school budget.

Sen. Davis, can you please offer the children of North Carolina, our parents, and our teachers the desperately needed leadership in the Senate and lead your fellow senators to either repeal this law or fully fund the mandate? Just a few weeks ago, the highly-respected Education Week noted that North Carolina public schools had fallen from 19th to 40th in the space of 2011 to present ... can you please help us turn this around?

(John deVille of Franklin has been a North Carolina public school teacher since 1995.)

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