Update: Legislators minimize impacts of unfunded mandate

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This is an update to last year’s podcast on NC’s unfunded education mandate. If you’d like the details of the story, listen to the full segment.

Following a period of confusion, the NC House of Representatives ratified House Bill 90, legislation seeking to alleviate the pressure created by the 2017 mandate on elementary school class sizes. Passed Feb. 13, Governor Roy Cooper is not expected to veto the legislation.

Last year’s mandate was met with immediate backlash due to the unfunded burden that it placed on school systems. While the House’s intentions of reducing elementary school class sizes were widely supported, the method used was not. Effects of the policy were evident this year–many class sizes skyrocketed.

“I’ve noticed overcrowding; some of my classes have upwards of 32 people, which is a lot,” senior Kirk Atwell said. “In my AP Human Geo class, there aren’t enough textbooks for everyone to take one home.”

Materials have been a noticeable problem; the impact of class sizes on teachers has also caused difficulties.

“It’s harder to focus and see the board,” senior Eve Golecruz said. “Classes are more chaotic and inattentive since the teacher can’t control or watch everything that we’re doing.”

Increasing class sizes have also forced a shift to occur in overall class offerings. This year, optional classes were eliminated in favor of graduation requirements and more common classes. As a result, many students weren’t able to take their top choices.

“I got stuck in a class that I had no interest in and was never planning to take,” Golecruz said. “My class choices were down to one, so I just had to settle.”

House Bill 90’s main impact comes from extending the deadline for elementary-level class size changes. In last year’s policy, the shift was supposed to take place in the fall; HB 90 creates a four-year transitional period to allow school systems to adjust. The issues with lack of funding have not been addressed.

Democratic lawmakers, Governor Roy Cooper included, have criticized the bill for partisanship due to the addition of additional provisions with no relation to schools, with some of these changes specifically target deals pushed by Cooper. Still, he stands in support of the fix.

“The class-sized chaos that this legislature started caused agony, anger and angst across the state for no reason,”  Cooper said in a press conference. “The good parts of this bill are not a celebration; they’re just a sigh of relief, a sigh of relief that came too late.”

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