Former Gov. Roy Barnes’ A+ Education Reform Act of 2000, also called House Bill 1187, set a four-year schedule to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. Local systems are bracing for the potential costs associated with getting back on schedule and improving quality of instruction.
“I wish they (legislators) would wait one more year and let us see what the economy is going to do,” Walker County school system personnel director Ed Combs said.
Funding to meet the standard not only includes initial classroom construction costs, but inflates a school system’s personnel budget as more teachers are hired to teach fewer students per classroom, Combs said.
New teachers earn roughly $42,000 in salary and benefits, he said.
If the schedule remains frozen for another year, Combs said he would probably have to hire fewer than five new teachers to keep pace with increasing enrollment. If legislators enforce class size reductions, he would have to hire roughly 25 new teachers.
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Hiring 25 teachers next year would cost about $1 million, and that figure doesn’t include classroom construction, he said.
“What folks don’t understand is they (state officials) don’t change the funding formula,” Combs said. “You get the same amount of money, but you’re having to add more people.”
The county schools would have to add new classrooms or more mobile units to the already crowded schools.
Georgia schools reduced the class sizes for three of the four years, but legislators froze reductions two years ago, Chickamauga school system Superintendent Melody Day said. Chickamauga Elementary needed a new wing to meet the classroom guidelines, and larger school systems face greater financial difficulty.
“Larger systems are probably faced with building new schools,” she said.
“It’s not that nobody wants to meet the guidelines; it’s just that it can’t be done at the snap of a finger,” Day said.
Despite funding roadblocks, nobody seems to dispute that smaller class sizes result in better education.
“There is a correlation between smaller class size and better performance on standardized tests,” Georgia Association of Educators President Merchuria Chase Williams said.
Standardized tests like the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and the Georgia High School Graduation Test are benchmarks measured in Georgia by the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are graded on several criteria to ensure they are performing at acceptable levels.
“Everyone will agree that smaller classes are better for children,” Day said. “(The act) was a very industrious piece of legislation to reduce it (class size) that much in four years.”
If schools fall behind those federal guidelines, they may be penalized with funding cuts or additional requirements, such as providing transportation for students to better-performing schools.
“No Child Left Behind is a marvelous concept…but it is still a very flawed law,” Williams said, adding the legislation is not fully funded