If North Carolina lawmakers are unable to find a solution to impending class-size limits, thousands of art, music, foreign language, and physical education teachers could lose their jobs this summer.
In 2016, the state legislature passed a budget bill that would require school districts to meet lower class-size requirements for kindergarten through 3rd grades. That means hiring more teachers for core classes and laying off other staff.
“Many of our state’s public school teachers are on edge about whether or not they’ll have a job at the end of the school year,” Mark Jewell—the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), an affiliate of the National Education Association—said at press conference, reports The News & Observer. “Living with this kind of fear and uncertainty is not productive for educators, and it’s not productive for our students, our public schools, and our public school administrators.”
Currently before the legislature is a bill that would provide relief from the new class-size requirements. It passed the state state house by a vote of 114-0, but has stalled in a senate committee. The NCAE is circulating a petition in support of the bill. So far, they’ve garnered more than 9,000 signatures.
If lawmakers are unable to agree on a solution, school districts will have to adapt to new class-size limits that drop the maximum students per class from 24 to between 19 and 21, depending on the grade. The legislative fix, House Bill 13, would restore the 24-student cap. The uncertainty has school administrators scrambling to figure out how they will find and pay for the new classroom teachers—complicating their planning is a developing teacher shortage.
In the southeastern corner of the state, a consortium of 12 districts predicts that they would need to collectively find 450 new teachers, reports The Sampson Independent. Stuart Blount, the superintendent of Clinton City Schools, laid out how the class-size requirements will affect students in his district.
“We know that student success is dependent upon having high quality teachers in every classroom, while keeping class sizes as low as possible,” Blount said. " In the K-3 grade span, it is equally important to expose students to the extracurricular subjects such as art and music, while continuing to have teacher assistants in the classroom for instructional support.”
And Blout is far from the only administrator concerned. The Wilmington Star News reports that New Hanover County Schools say they will have to come up with $3.2 million to pay for 48 new classroom teachers.
“Education decisions are best made at the local level by the board setting the policies,” said New Hanover Superintendent Tim Markley. “And when the state tries to impose changes with a one-size-fits-all policy, we end up with something like this.”
To cope with these expenses, Markley has floated the idea of having elementary schools with fewer than 400 students share assistant principals and art and music teachers. They have also proposed eliminating positions like high school graduation coaches.
There is also concern about the class-size limits exacerbating the state’s teacher shortages. “These districts are going to have to hire less qualified teachers because of the teacher shortage,” Lori Caudle, a professor at Western Carolina University, told the Citizen-Times.
State Senator Jerry Tillman, a former principal, told The Courier-Tribune that he hopes HB-13 will give schools breathing room.
“HB13 is a temporary fix, which will allow school systems the flexibility to organize their classes how they choose for the upcoming school year without undue cost,” he said. “There are many other elements that are needed to comprehensively fix the problems associated with a maximum hard cap on class sizes in K-3. The Senate is currently working on a permanent solution for this issue.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.