First, it was teacher pay. Then it was money for supplies. Now it’s class size.
It is worth noting that the group leading the protests over class size, Save Our Schools NC, has aligned itself with the NCAE and Public Schools First NC.
The latter is a narrative shop masquerading as an educational non-profit and is run by known liberal activist, Yvonne Brannon.
Also in the mix is the Durham Association of Educators, which is run by a Durham teacher and known socialist/far-leftist named Bryan Proffitt.
NC news outlets often cite Proffitt like he’s just a regular teacher but he’s affiliated with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the NCAE’s “Social Justice Caucus” and Moral Monday.
At the rally mentioned above, one of the speakers was a teacher who is a Hope Street Group fellow. Hope Street has been responsible for much of the Common Core peddling in local media outlets as well as attacks on anything Republicans do in the legislature. I’ve written extensively on Hope Street Group. You can read some key pieces on Hope Street here:
- Another House In the Common Core Potemkin Village: Hope Street Group
- Common Core Potemkin Village: Hope Street Group’s History & Money
Back to the “classroom size chaos” protests at hand.
Protesting Getting What You Wanted
For the better part of the last three decades, school administrators and teachers have begged for smaller class sizes – especially in K-3 classrooms.
Now they are protesting over getting what they want. Why?
In part, it has to do with districts not using the budget flexibility given to them to make the adjustments in the appropriate grades (k-3). Districts knew the class size changes were coming yet seemingly did not prepare accordingly. They spent the money earmarked for K-3 class size changes on other programs.
In April of 2017, ABC 11 reported on that “why.” Note: Barefoot’s accusations of transparency issues are backed up by a 2016 legislative report which found that the allotment system currently in place is “opaque” and overly complex.
“The lack of transparency and accountability in our school system is completely unacceptable and it’s been the number one impediment to reaching a solution on this issue,” Barefoot said during Monday’s committee meeting.
He told the committee that the current K-3 class size requirements have been on the books for years. He said since 2014, local school districts across the state have received a total of $152 million to lower class sizes and every year they’re guaranteed about $70 million in recurring dollars.
“Imagine our surprise when we realized in many cases that these dollars have been spent on something else,” Barefoot said.
He said many district leaders either could not or would not account for where that money went or how many art, music or physical education teachers they have.
The NCAE, who protests nearly everything the legislature does, chimed in.
“I think for the Senate to say the districts are mishandling their money, go to your school districts and see what’s going on; our school districts are starving,” said Mark Jewell, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Mr. Jewell doth protest too hilariously. They are not “starving.”
Take Wake County for example. Wake is the largest district in the state and something like the 16th largest in the country. Wake’s budget is over $1.26 BILLION and the board said that they needed an additional $21 million – even after the county has hiked taxes three years in a row.
Have Wake Schools been good stewards? Not by a long stretch. Besides being a very well-traveled school board, they are spending our money on social justice programs, expensive land deals, exorbitant Superintendent salaries/bonuses, administrative bloat, and filling six-figure salary non-teaching jobs.
To those concerned with district spending and think it’s ‘easy’ to get the data, I’ve tried for over three years to get the Wake schools line item budget. Not the one the district puts out to the public, but the line-by-line spending. They have yet to turn over anything beyond the top-level line items. This is what legislators want so they can see the movement of money within top-level line items. Districts are not producing it. But I digress.
Let’s back up and start with some class size history.
Class Size History
The State Board of Education’s Basic Education Program (BEP) was created in the 1980s. This program, along with language allowing maximum class sizes to exceed LEA averages by 3 students in a 1985 bill, created the 3+3 spread that is responsible for some of the issues we are facing today.
In short, LEA average class sizes can be the funded allotment ratio + 3 students, and the maximum allowable individual class size is the LEA average class size + 3. For example, if the funded allotment ratio is 18, LEA-wide class size averages can be 21 and the maximum allowable class size can be 24.
In the past, the NC General Assembly has more frequently altered the classroom teacher allotment ratios through Session Law, particularly budget bills, as opposed to statutory changes. The changes made in Session Law often have not matched up with what is listed in statute – that district-wide class size averages cannot exceed the funded allotment ratio.
My understanding, after talking with various sources inside the legislature, is that every time a Session Law that deals with class size ratios has expired, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has defaulted back to what is listed in the BEP as opposed to General Statute.
This is something that occurred with regard to the incorrect guidance that DPI sent to the districts earlier this year on implementing class size requirements. Additionally, there have been many “notwithstanding” clauses attached to changes to funded allotment ratios that have created confusion.
For example, the 2015 budget clarified the circumstances in which a school could apply for a class size waiver and provided roughly $27 million to hire more 1st grade teachers.
Remember though that since 2014, local school districts have received a total of $152 million to lower class sizes. In addition to that, every year districts receive somewhere around $70 million in recurring dollars.
That same 2015 provision also states that notwithstanding GS115c-301 (a statute which says that district averages cannot exceed funded allotment ratio), for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, class size requirements in kindergarten through third grade shall remain unchanged. It looks like DPI has interpreted that to mean that the notwithstanding clause does not force districts to modify class size averages or maximums. This changed, however, in the 2016 budget when the General Assembly included in the class size provision that the requirements listed in statute will apply in the 2017-18 school year.
It is important to understand that prior to 1995, there were individual allotments for classroom teachers, special education teachers, program enhancement teachers, and more. In 1995, the General Assembly collapsed these allotments into one “Classroom Teacher Allotment.” The legislature also directed the State Board to adopt formulas to compute those new allotments.
But don’t take it from me. Listen to the ‘Education Governor’.
Governor Easley routinely cited 1:18 as an ideal class size ratio during his initiative to lower class sizes. Here are a few press releases his office sent out using that number:
- 2001: Easley’s initiative to reduce class size to 18
- July 2002: Easley signs executive order 24 directing DPI to expand class size reduction to first grade
- June 2004: Easley responds to Senate committee appropriating half of the funds requested for grade 3 class size allotment to drop to 18:1
What Is Being Done?
So what was done by the legislature to fix this?
There are a lot of allegations this is an unfunded mandate. That’s not really true. A provision was put in the 2016 state budget and into the statute that funded class size allotment ratios as follows:
- Kindergarten: 1 teacher to 18 students
- 1st Grade: 1 teacher to 16 students
- 2nd Grade: 1 teacher to 17 students
- 3rd Grade: 1 teacher to 17 students
The legislation also stated that the statutory class size requirements. It instructed that district-wide class size averages cannot exceed the funded allotment ratios were to apply beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
By explicitly stating that the requirements listed in statute are to take effect, DPI and local school districts were forced to act to ensure that the numbers match up. They could no longer default to what they have been using historically – which was either the BEP or the notwithstanding clauses allowing the 3+3 spread.
During the 2017 Legislative Session, House Bill 13 delayed implementation of the class size requirements until the 2018-19 school year.
HB 13 also instructs districts to report information pertaining to class size, classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers, and other information on school organization.
The bill also authorized the State Board of Education to impose penalties for noncompliance in reporting. In other words, districts were not turning over the relevant information on what they did with the funds given to them to reduce K-3 class size and now they have to by law
As a former elementary teacher I see these purported problems of class size and low pay as the tip of a much larger iceberg of concern. Mr. Jewell and his ilk use these issues like Pavlov’s bell; they ring it and teachers and media outlets begin to salivate. The distraction keeps the focus off what real teachers desire….to be treated as professionals. To that end, our state must begin at the beginning and commit to raising the standards for teacher preparation in the UNC system and make certification smoother for high-quality out of state and lateral entry teachers. Real educators are tired of being paid the same as lightweight colleagues, but also are skeptical of being paid/ evaluated on statistically manipulated student score data. They are discouraged with being treated as data collectors and tall third-graders when they express a professional opinion.
NC has an opportunity to begin to require and develop a more professional and well-educated teaching profession…one that will dovetail beautifully with NC’s growing standing in business and fiscal arenas.
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