Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

When House Bill 13 unanimously passed the House of Representatives, Senate leaders refused to consider the legislation, which addresses the concern that class size mandates would be too costly for local districts to sustain. Senators like Jim Davis said that the state had been sending funding to districts to lower class sizes over the last year but didn’t have an accurate account of how those funds had been spent.

On Tuesday night, the Senate passed the legislation, which is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

The office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announced the passage of the much-anticipated legislation.

In a release, Berger’s office said “to continue forward progress toward smaller class sizes in kindergarten, first, second and third grades,” the bill requires local school districts to achieve:

A district-wide average class size of 20 students in grades K-3 and a single class maximum of 23 students in the 2017-18 school year; and

A district-wide average class size in grades K-3 that is equal to the teacher-to-student ratio currently in law and a single class maximum of three above that number in the 2018-19 school year.

To address the Senate’s concern on funding accountability and to address the House’s concerns on class size requirements placing a financial burden on districts across the state, the two groups released a temporary compromise on Monday night.

House Bill 13 was intended to ease class size requirements and give local districts the flexibility needed to move teachers around to meet the state mandate. A new version of the bill does that, by lowering the maximum K-3 class sizes for this fall to 23 students. In the 2018-19 school year, maximum K-3 class sizes would range from 19 to 21 students. Also in 2018, average K-3 class sizes for districts would drop to between 16 and 18 students, compared to 21 this school year. The compromise lowers class sizes over time to give districts more time to plan and fund the need for more infrastructure and personnel needs.

In addition to lowering class sizes over the next two years, the compromise legislation calls for more accountability from local districts to better determine how funds are being spent in the state, something the Senate wanted to see.

“I am pleased with the compromise as it accomplished what we set out to do, which gives some relief to school systems,” said Rep. Kevin Corbin, who was a primary sponsor on the legislation. “The 2018 deadline gives us some time to rework how funding goes to local school systems.”

Corbin said that the Speaker of the House asked him to serve on the committee that is going to be formed to rework the entire funding process.

If a new version of the bill hadn’t been passed, school leaders across the state, including Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin were saying that special classes such as art, PE, and music would be in jeopardy to meet the state requirements. The new version of House Bill 13 calls for stricter accountability in what dollars are used to fund those positions and how many of those positions are funded in each district. The new legislation also calls for superintendents to report the staffing numbers to the state twice a year. The information will be used to decide how the teaching positions are funded in the future.

Dr. Baldwin said Monday night that assuming the compromise passes the Senate and is signed into law, the new requirements will be more easily met and won’t put Macon County in as difficult of a position financially as originally anticipated.

“This compromise preserves our longstanding and research-backed goal of lowering class sizes in the early grades, on a timeline school administrators say is reasonable,” Berger said. “It will also help improve school transparency and accountability and shine a light on what is needed to keep special subject-area teachers in the classroom – steps I am confident will help our students receive a higher-quality, more well-rounded education.”