Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Class size limits, charter school caps may change as Texas looks to trim costs

This was an issue last session as well. A major counter argument to amending state code was that currently there are no instances where a few students over the maximum class size limit were forcing schools to create an entirely new class. Currently there is a safety net that allows schools in those situations to apply for a waiver. According to TEA, there are no records of any waivers ever being denied. SO school leaders that argue that the current class size limit policy is hurting schools needs to be probed deeper.

There is no data that shows that the current waiver/ school safety net is not enough. There's more going on here that isn't being aired out.


By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

AUSTIN – The Senate Education Committee wants the Legislature to consider easing class size limits in elementary schools to save money and eliminating the cap on independent charter schools in Texas.

Several of the panel's recommendations for lawmakers' 2011 session would have far-reaching effects on public schools, such as a change in the strict class size limit of 22 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Teacher groups are gearing up to fight any tampering with the requirement, but those seeking change question whether the standard is as beneficial as when it was first enacted 25 years ago.

The class size standard is costly because every time a class in the five affected grade levels hits 23 or more students, a new class must be created with an additional teacher and classroom. So any statewide change could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said recently that the No. 1 money-saving request from school superintendents is for revision of the standard. The change is being considered as lawmakers prepare to deal with a state revenue shortfall that could total as much as $24 billion over the next two years.

"They feel if we don't have any new money next year – which we probably won't – then, what can the Legislature do to eliminate some of the mandates that are the most cumbersome and costly. And 22-to-1 is at the top of the list," the senator said.

Teacher leaders insisted the 22-pupil limit has been critical to achievement gains for elementary students over the last two decades and vowed to oppose any effort to weaken or water down the standard.

The recommendation on charter schools would remove the cap of 215 charter school operators – a limit that has been in effect for several years. Republican lawmakers have generally favored the allowance of more charter schools, while Democrats have called for stronger state oversight of existing charter campuses.

Committee members also recommended that the state's Permanent School Fund be used to guarantee construction bonds for charter schools and that their state funding be increased to match what regular public schools receive.

The four Democrats on the committee voiced objections to some of the charter school recommendations, saying the state cannot commit more funding to charter schools at a time when regular public schools are facing possible cutbacks.

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