[Editor’s note: In the latest “Education Policy Perspectives” report, North Carolina Justice Center Policy Analyst Kris Nordstrom dissects the chaos that has overtaken North Carolina public schools in recent weeks as local school districts have struggled to implement new and unfunded K-3 class size requirements mandated by the General Assembly. The report is a “must read” for those who want to understand one of the most important issues facing state policymakers in 2017.]
Controversy over class-size requirements in early grades has emerged as the biggest issue facing North Carolina’s public schools in the 2017 legislative session.
Current law requires school districts (also known as local education agencies, or LEAs) to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 in the upcoming 2017-18 school year. However, the General Assembly has failed to provide the funding necessary to allow districts to meet the class size goals. Absent General Assembly action, districts are scrambling to meet the requirements by initiating layoffs and eliminating enhancement teaching positions in subjects like art, physical education, and music.
How does North Carolina fund classroom teachers?
In North Carolina, funding for classroom teachers is provided by a position allotment. Under a position allotment, the state provides each school district a set number of teachers based on the number of students at particular grade levels in each district.
For example, the allotment ratio for kindergarten is one teaching position for every 18 kindergarten students. The state will then pay the salary for those teachers according to each teacher’s placement on the teacher salary schedule, which establishes each teacher’s minimum salary based on position type, experience level, and certain qualifications. The district could hire any combination of teachers, from beginning teachers making $35,000 per year to teachers with more than 25 years of experience, master’s degrees, and National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification, each making $62,220 per year. In either case, the position allotment provides the district guaranteed state funding.
Under current law, districts have the flexibility to deploy teachers as they see fit, so long as they meet two conditions:
- LEA average class size: The average K-3 class size across the LEA must be 21 or less
- Individual class-size maximum: No individual K-3 class may exceed 24 students
This flexibility is important because it allows districts to:
- Hire enhancement teachers in non-core subjects like art, physical education, and music.
- Target class-size reductions to the students who would most benefit from smaller classes.
- Manage the reality that students don’t arrive to the district in neat packages of 18 or 21, and that enrollment can change mid-year.
It is important to note that LEAs are also granted flexibility to deploy teachers in any grade level. That is, a teaching position generated due to the student count in grade 1 can teach any grade level.
Historically, the LEA average class size limits has exceeded the allotment ratio by three students, and the individual class-size maximum has exceeded the allotment ratio by six students. The three-student difference between LEA average class size and the allotment ratio has been sufficient to allow districts to hire both classroom teachers and enhancement teachers. By eliminating this ratio difference, the General Assembly is eliminating funding for enhancement teachers.
Arts and physical education are both required under the North Carolina Basic Education Program. Therefore, eliminating funding to provide such instruction is a clear example of an unfunded mandate.
What is changing for the 2017-18 school year?
The General Assembly has radically changed class size requirements beginning in the 2017-18 school year. As shown in the bottom table, the LEA average class-size would not be allowed to exceed the teacher allotment ratio, and the individual class-size maximum would be set at three students above the allotment ratio….