House Bill 13: What is Going on and How Does it Affect Our School System?

For many elementary school P.E, Art, and Music teachers, House Bill 13 may determine whether or not they have jobs for the 2017-18 school year.

Back in 2016, a law was passed to reduce kindergarten, first, second, and third grade class sizes from at least twenty-four students to between nineteen and twenty-one. In the North Carolina General Assembly, the House  passed the bill unanimously to restore flexibility. Because of the lack of action by the Senate, school systems all over the state have said that they would be forced to use millions of dollars to hire new teachers, add classrooms, and other compensation for removing specials classes.

According to the News and Observer, Wake County Schools would have to hire 461 new teachers and would have no choice but to lay off hundreds of specials teachers for the next school year if HB13 is not passed. It would cost $27 million dollars to keep them. Fear escalated through the room at a board meeting as Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill gave all of his options for accommodating without HB13, such as class sizes for grades for fourth and fifth grades, laying off specials teachers, and reassigning students. Some schools might have to have a total of forty students in classrooms with two teachers to accommodate. If the bill is passed, they would only have to hire thirty-two additional teachers.

On April 19, teachers, students, and other supporters rallied outside Halifax Mall in support of House Bill 13. “I never thought I’d be pushed out of my career,” Dawn McCormick-Dahm, an art teacher at Highcroft Drive Elementary School in Cary, said at the rally. “Although our state has a budget surplus and my students love to learn in my classroom, I am told that my position may no longer be funded.”

Stone Hensley, a fifth grader at Sycamore Creek Elementary, says he disagrees with lawmakers who think core classes such as reading and math are more important than the arts and physical education. “If this bill doesn’t pass, they will be forced to devote all their resources to the core classes, and I don’t think that’s right,” Stone said. “Our special programs inspire so many kids and teach them important life skills that help set them on the path of their life.”

The Senate Education Committee met and discussed HB13 on April 24. Senate leader Phil Berger announced that the significant class size reductions would be pushed back until the 2018-19 school year, a “compromise,” according to the North Carolina Association of School Administrators executive director, Katherine Joyce. The Senate Education Committee has also announced that they are pledged to studying how to fund elementary school teachers who teach art, music, P.E., and drama “to ensure a smooth transition to smaller class sizes.” Senator Chad Barefoot, co-chairman of the committee, says they’ll have to consider separately funding those subjects.

As the revised bill heads to the full Senate, the future of the specials teachers who are hoping to keep their jobs are in the balance. The General Assembly will need to be able to reach a compromise in order for this bill to be signed into law. The only thing teachers and supporters can do right now is keep fighting for what they need, and their school systems need.

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