Faced with a budget gap of approximately $8.2 billion and cuts to other education programs, California lawmakers have targeted the state’s class-size reduction program as a possible source of badly needed funds. This news is especially surprising given the unlikely partnership legislators have been able to form with state educators, who have admitted that small class size is a luxury the state might not be able to afford.
Earlier this month, the California state legislature began considering a bill that would raise the class-size cap from 20 to 22 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade. Other legislation under consideration would raise the limit to as many as 25 students. Even with an increase in the cap, some school systems are planning to go beyond the legal limit and raise primary-grade classes to as many as 32 students, which would potentially save them enough money to make up for the overall reduction in state funding they see as inevitable. Such a violation would come with a penalty-the district would have to forfeit the $906 per student that the state pays for smaller classes. But the penalty may not be enough to make districts obey the law; some districts say the funding they receive from the state does not begin to cover the cost of extra teachers and classrooms that accompany smaller class size.
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Eric Hanushek, a conservative economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, writes that California’s budget gap could have a silver lining if it does, in fact, force the state to consider eliminating its class-size mandate. “There is the possibility that the budget predicament offers an escape from the costly and ineffective policy of blanket reductions in class size. Freeing our schools of this Sacramento mandate, and allowing districts greater latitude in deciding how to spend their funds, would produce far into the future.”
Hanushek writes that school districts would be better off if they could direct money away from reducing class size and put it toward the hiring of good teachers; he argues that a good teacher in a large class is more preferable than a mediocre teacher in a small class.
However, research consistently shows that smaller class sizes result in significant achievement gains for students, especially poor, minority students in urban schools and in younger grades. New teachers cite small class sizes as the number one way to improve teacher quality, ahead of more professional development or training and higher salaries.
Los Angeles Times article on class size at: