RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Republican lawmakers said Thursday that they have a compromise solution to an elementary school class-size impasse that has drawn attention from parents and educators across the state.
“We’ve got a great educational system,” said House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican. “Does it need work? Yes. Does it need continued investment? Yes. But, this is a huge step forward.”
Some parents have been worried about the impact to their kids. Some teachers have been worried whether they would lose their jobs. It all has to do with changes to class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.
“I am grateful that they are dealing with this,” said Renee Sekel, a Cary parent who has two children in Davis Drive Elementary School. “I am trying to hold back my impulse to say what took you so long.”
Sekel attended the press conference announcing the bill.
Parents were concerned that the K-3 class size mandate would mean potentially larger class sizes in older grades and fewer teachers in specialty subjects such as, like music and physical education.
Both sides debated whether the funds were there. This new deal holds off on the class size changes this year and phases in the changes over a four-year time period.
“It has been difficult to see one of the state’s largest investments in public education go unfulfilled,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
CBS North Carolina asked Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County, for his reaction shortly after learning about the legislation.
“This has some major victories for public school advocates,” he said. “The republicans have had to admit that their class size plan was unfunded.”
The proposed bill also includes between $82 and 91 million yearly to eliminate the waiting list for North Carolina’s Pre-K program.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson told CBS North Carolina there are questions that should be asked about why another part of the bill divides nearly $58 million from a fund linked to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in the eight counties that the pipeline would run through in North Carolina. Cooper announced the creation of the fund the same day the state issued a key water permit to move the project forward.
Jackson was also critical about another part of the bill that talks about the composition of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
Republicans grilled Gov. Roy Cooper’s new legislative affairs director Lee Lilley Thursday about the pipeline agreement.
“Did the governor solicit for this slush fund money?” asked Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery/Stanly).
Lilley previously lobbied for Dominion Energy, one of the main companies involved in the pipeline project. Thursday was his fifth day working for Gov. Cooper. He repeatedly told legislators he didn’t come to the meeting expecting to answer questions on the topic.
Governor Roy Cooper’s Communications Director Sadie Weiner released a statement about the proposed legislation, saying, “It’s clear that the legislature finally bowed to public pressure on class size and expanding Pre-K, which is positive for our students, but it’s unfortunate that it has been lumped in with political shenanigans.”
Mark Jewell, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators also released a statement, saying:
I want to thank all of our educators and parents who made sure the class size chaos issue stayed on the front burner. The original class size bill was flawed from the start with an enormous unfunded mandate. The delay in this proposal was unnecessary and the threat of educators losing their jobs was very real and disruptive to our schools. The phased-in plan has always been the more reasonable approach for local school districts, but whether the resources are adequate is still a question mark. This doesn’t address the other class size challenges in higher grades, and it doesn’t provide funding for much needed school construction which many local districts will find a significant challenge. While it ends a Pre-K waiting list, which is good, it’s unfortunate that this class size bill had to be politicized with other controversial legislation around the gas pipeline, state board of elections and expansion of a new private school voucher scheme.
State lawmakers still must formally vote on the proposal.