Last week I went to tour our base school in anticipation of kindergarten signup starting in January. Sure enough, a parent asked about how Conn will deal with the class size cap that became law recently. The principal's shoulders sank a bit as he answered honestly: “We don’t really know”.
Class size maximums seem like a good thing on the surface, but not when they’re foisted on communities without accompanying resources to make that ideal a reality. I have faith that school districts across this state have been doing their best to keep class sizes low while balancing all of their other funding needs, whether that be guidance counselors, facility maintenance, or providing essentials like libraries and gymnasiums that are increasingly becoming known as specials as requirements mount and budgets shrink.
It makes me wonder: why would our state legislators pass an unfunded mandate rather than trust the local governments to do what is best for their students? Is this about class size, or is it about something different, like school choice, vouchers and charter schools? Because it sure seems like they either didn’t listen to teachers and administrators who tried to tell them the unintended consequences, or perhaps they weren’t unintended at all.
If Wake County, one of the most prosperous counties in the state, is facing tough decisions like converting libraries to classrooms, putting over 30 children in a 3rd grade class, and eliminating crucial staff like guidance counselors can you imagine what this mandate might do to our less prosperous communities?
Closer to home, what will it mean when PTAs step in to fill gaps leading to better resourced schools in affluent parts of town while others continue to suffer?
These questions shouldn’t be troubling to parents alone; this is an issue that impacts all of us. Schools shape our community by informing where families choose to live; the strength of the system has led parents of means to choose to send their children to public school resulting in increasingly diverse neighborhoods and schools. Our school system is one of our city’s greatest tools in recruiting business headquarters and is also where hope lies for correcting historic injustices through education of future generations.
We need the folks on Jones Street to listen when we say that this unfunded mandate will hurt our communities!
Take time to learn more about what these changes mean for our children and schools and join us in support of NC Association of Educators, NC Justice Center, and Public Schools First NC on January 10th at the "Class Size Chaos Advocacy Day".
- Elizabeth Alley is a Raleigh mom of twin 4 year olds. A self-proclaimed civic policy nerd, she's passionate about how we build communities - literally and figuratively.We're grateful she's sharing her time and talents with AFAR as a "Founding Mother".