NC’s elected officials must fix the class size crisis they created

(Comments from the January 6 Class Size Chaos rally at the NC State Legislative Building in Raleigh)

Great to see you all turn out despite the freezing cold to support our children and teachers!  My name is Justin Parmenter.  I’m a middle school teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte and the father of a kindergartener and a 2nd grader.  It’s such an exciting and rewarding job being their dad and watching them discover new things about this world every day.  I have no idea where they will be or what they’ll be doing 12 years from now when their K-12 public educations are complete.  To help them on their journeys of self discovery I’m counting on our state to provide them with a well rounded education to nurture their creative minds and healthy bodies.  We need strong arts, physical education, and foreign language departments to make those things happen for our kids in North Carolina.  I believe it’s our state’s responsibility to ensure it. 

I’m also depending on our state to give my kids and their classmates classes when they get to 4th and 5th grade where their teachers can get to know them and show that they care about them as individuals.  That doesn’t happen as often as it should when there are 35-40 students in the class.  And we could see numbers like that if our school districts are forced to comply with this mandate but not provided with the funds to do it.  Our class sizes at middle school and high school, where they are already much bigger than they should be, could swell to impossible sizes as well.

A little bit about the numbers where I’m from.

In Mecklenburg County we’re going to need more than 350 additional teachers and more than 200 additional mobile classrooms to comply with this law.  Our school district’s budget is due to our county commission on May 15.  We’ll need to budget for the worst case scenario in advance of that May deadline so that we’ll be able to begin installing trailers as soon as this school year ends to have them ready for class on August 27.  We simply cannot wait until May for the Senate to begin discussing this issue.

I would love to see smaller class sizes.  My experience as a teacher has showed me that more one-on-one time with students can make a big difference in the lives of our children.  But it seems very unlikely to me that our current General Assembly can find the will to fully fund the class size mandate, both teaching positions and decent classrooms.  We must not rob Peter to pay Paul.  We can’t make sacrifices that harm our children’s futures just to provide somebody with a talking point for their political campaign.  

When it comes to the class size mandate and to other education reforms, we keep hearing our legislators refer to ‘unintended consequences.’  I think that phrase ‘unintended consequences’ speaks to a fundamental problem with our General Assembly in North Carolina.  Deliberately involving all stakeholders to get a clear view of exactly how impacts of legislation will play out should be an automatic part of the process.  Our leaders need to stop putting major education initiatives in the budget and then passing them with no transparency, committee process, or public debate.  That’s not what doing the will of your constituents looks like.  The public has had enough of this practice of ramming through legislation that is so poorly conceived it already needs to be overhauled before it’s even implemented.  

To the Senators who hold the keys to solving this crisis, Senator Berger, Education committee chairs Barefoot, Curtis, and Lee, our school districts’ budgets are due in May and we can’t wait until then for you to begin talking about class sizes.  We need you to repeal this unrealistic mandate next week.  There’s a line from North Carolina’s constitution that reads “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.”  The people are watching as the Senate begins its January session, and we’re going to hold you accountable for doing your part to guard and maintain our children’s right to a quality public education.  Thank you.

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