Open Letter to Rep. Chuck McGrady About His Empty Class Size Mandate Explanation

Dear Rep. Chuck McGrady,

I read with great interest your recent missive “Class Size: A Simple Explanation of the Issue.” While I appreciate your wanting to explain the issue in what you may think is a truthful manner, I must admit that it just rehashes the same argument made by many others in the General Assembly which have been debunked or severely neutralized (https://nchouse117.com/class-size-a-simple-explanation-of-the-issue/).

Particularly interesting was the section entitled “A Longer Explanation and History of Class Size Requirements” not only because it follows the “simple explanation”, but because it leaves out a rather particularly vital aspect to this class size ordeal.

You stated,

“The class size issue is not new; the legislature has been instituting class size restrictions for the past four decades. Prior to 1995, there were separate allotments for classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers. In 1995, those allotments were consolidated into one allotment that included funding for both classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers.

Over the years as the legislature changed the teacher allotment ratio, it did not always correspond with an average class size requirement change. This is best shown through this chart:”

blackburn1

That graph is linked to teacher allotment. Yet if you are going to give a “longer explanation” of the class size requirements then it might need to include the removal of class size caps passed by the same NCGA that you and others in Raleigh but never seem to mention.

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom.

class size

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes and you do mention that local LEA’s have flexibility. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on previous allotment numbers. And that’s huge! As classes around the state got bigger in size, the General Assembly was funding with the same allotment table. You even give another table.

blackburn 2

Actually, you are saying that the NCGA thinks that bigger classes should be the norm. From 2010-2011 to 2017-2018, the average class size for the allotment is bigger. That means fewer teachers being allotted for more students.

Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students. I mention the sizes for high school and middle school classrooms because to create a class size mandate for early grades affects the class sizes for all grades in a school system. If you say that there is already funding, then shrinking some classes to fit a requirement cause other classes to balloon and subjects to be dropped.

Plus you NEVER SHOW where the funding came in for the class size mandate. You just make a blanket statement in your “longer explanation.”

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher. But it seems that you are making an argument that funding is fantastically high now.

You also say,

“School building and other capital needs, may also be an issue. If a school is at capacity and suddenly has to have smaller class sizes, then it will need additional classrooms. This is a cost that is borne by the school system, not the state.”

Is that how you would explain it to local LEA’s and superintendents? Because according to the numbers, all of that funding that you imply was to go to “class size restrictions” actually is going to teacher salaries just to fill classrooms that already were getting bigger in size, were defined by DPI as viable classes, and already existed.

Kris Nordstrom, a well-known education finance and policy analyst, published a rather epic article on the class-size mandate and the lies that people like Barefoot and Moore have used in explaining their lack of action to fully fund the mandate (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/15/cant-general-assembly-leadership-stop-lying-unfunded-class-size-mandate/#sthash.UcohVyIb.dpbs). It is very much worth the read.

Within that article, Nordstrom states,

DPI publishes data showing whether a school district has transferred their classroom teacher money for other uses. It’s a bit complicated to find. But in FY 2016-17, just four districts transferred any money out of their classroom teacher allotment. The transfers totaled just $1.1 million. In that same year, districts received $4.1 billion of classroom teacher money. In other words, districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes.

That bears repeating:

“Districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year.” 

Nordstrom shows the numbers. You make blanket statements under headers such as “A Simple Explanation” which are then followed up by even more blankets statements in sections like “A Longer Explanation.”

Rep. McGrady, until you explain how your funding for the class size mandate has actually been made when you yourself helped to remove class size caps but not made corresponding changes to teacher allotments then I will take your words with more merit.

And until you explain how local LEA’s have been not using those funds already on teachers in still overcrowded classrooms, then I will consider your explanation empty.

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