Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lawmakers tackle Utah’s large class sizes

Class size is one of Utahns’ biggest complaints about their schools, with students sometimes crammed into rooms of 30 and even 40 kids.

It’s not an easy issue to solve in a state with the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation — but that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t give it another try this year.

The House Education Committee is scheduled Monday to discuss HB318, which would cap class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. The bill would limit kindergarten classes to 20 students starting next school year; first-grade classes to 22 students the next year; second-grade classes to 22 the year after that; and third-grade classes to 24 kids starting in the 2016-2017 school year.

Districts could meet those requirements by hiring more teachers or teacher’s aides, known as paraprofessionals, to work with educators, driving down student-to-adult ratios.

However, the bill would not give schools any additional money. Schools would be expected to use class size reduction money they already receive, and they could actually lose that money if they fail to shrink classrooms.

Bill sponsor Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said reducing class sizes in the early grades is important if the state is going meet its educational goals.

Edwards said her bill would hold schools accountable for using the funding they already receive — more than $100 million this fiscal year —to help reduce class sizes. A 2007 legislative audit showed that $460 million allocated over seven years hadn’t led to any change, though some have said class sizes would have been even larger if not for that money.

Plus, she said, the class size reduction money school districts already get rises with per pupil spending, meaning schools will get more over time. And her bill would allow districts and charters to use some of those funds for construction to help further reduce class sizes. Salt Lake Tribune

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