NC Legislature Strangles Their Own Public Schools, Again

By: Chris Long

A bill that was passed earlier this year is projected to have North Carolina school systems scrambling to make dramatic changes, mostly of the unwanted variety.

In March, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring all public kindergarten through 3rd grade classes in North Carolina to have no more than 18 students. The rationale for this law is that, on average, the state gives the local school districts enough money to have 18 students to a class. In the legislature’s eyes, the fewer the students in a class, the more one-on-one time a student will have with his/her teacher, and therefore a higher likelihood that they will learn the skills necessary to complete each grade and move up the education ladder. However, most districts take that money and put it towards other parts of the budget; so, while there are more students to a class, there are also more opportunities at each school for each student.

This new law will have enormous effect.

In Wake County alone, about 400 more classrooms are needed and 400 more teachers will need to be hired, meaning that entirely new elementary schools will need to be built in order to be in compliance with the law. To make up for the lack of teachers, school systems may be forced to cut elective classes in elementary schools, including music, PE, and art, so while many elementary school teachers will need to be hired, just as many elective teachers are in jeopardy of losing their job in the coming months and years.

Recently, a bill has passed the Senate, and is on its way to the house, to space out the law so that classes need to be reduced to 20 students for the 2017-18 school year, and then to 18 for the 2018-19 school year. The legislature hopes that this will help ease the school districts into the new law so that they can be fully compliant by the 18-19 school year.

This law is unacceptable.

Sure, I see the point of having smaller class sizes for more one-on-one time, but shrinking class sizes by 3-5 is not worth the hundreds of music, PE, and art teachers whose job is now in jeopardy because of an ignorant, new law.

First, let’s start with physical education teachers. PE in elementary school is not like PE in a middle or high school. The whole point in elementary school is to get students active, and, usually, it’s not by force. Generally, PE in an elementary school includes games that everyone wants to participate in, and it gets a lot of kids moving when they otherwise wouldn’t be.

Next, there are the music and the art teachers. At Heritage Elementary my favorite teacher was not any of my core teachers, now don’t get me wrong, I still liked them, it was my music teacher, Ms. Blackwelder. The amount of time outside of school hours that she devoted to making the music program at Heritage Elementary better was, and still is, incredibly impressive. A few years ago, she created a choir who performs in multiple venues all across the Triangle. This choir rehearses strictly before and after school and it would not be possible without Ms. Blackwelder’s commitment to the arts and to the betterment of elementary school students.

If this new law comes to fruition and many of the music and arts teachers are let go, it will have disastrous effects on the quality of education in our state. There is a lot more to school then just academics, and schools need to have electives where students can find their niche in areas outside of reading, math, social studies, and science.