Easley speaks out about number of students in school classrooms

  • Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 12:38 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, April 19, 2013 1:10 a.m.

Easley speaks out about number of students in school classrooms

RALEIGH (AP) — Mike Easley says North Carolina legislators would be wrong to scrap a law that now requires public school classrooms in the earliest grades to have no more than 24 students — a cap that the former Democratic governor championed during his eight years in office.

Easley told the Associated Press on Thursday that giving flexibility to school districts to spend state money for teachers in kindergarten through third grade is the wrong way to go.

“You can’t keep the classes small without paying for it and giving flexibility doesn’t pay for it,” Easley wrote in an email, marking one of his first public forays into policy since leaving office more than four years ago.

A bill sponsored by Senate Republicans and approved by a committee this week would end a requirement that currently means no classroom for kindergarten through third grade can be larger than 24 students. The average classroom size in a school district for these early grades can be no larger than 21 students.

The idea behind the mandate is a state law that says classroom size must be linked directly to the money school districts receive from the state to hire teachers.

Bill supporters say superintendents and principals should be given leeway during tight budget times to shift money around to pay for other priorities or try innovative teaching methods.

When Easley was governor from 2001 to 2009, he made class-size reduction in those grades one of his top priorities. He persuaded lawmakers to set aside more funds for those classrooms.

The former governor said there’s plenty of evidence that prekindergarten programs and lower K-3 class sizes reduce the achievement gap. Easley also lobbied successfully for what was then called “More at Four,” or state-funded preschool for at-risk 4-year-olds.

“Failing to provide these tools violates the (state) constitution, discriminates against an entire segment of our population and creates a permanent underclass,” he wrote. The 2005 law creating the state lottery Easley successfully sought earmarks portions of funds for early-grade teachers and pre-K.

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