Bill aims at reducing class sizes | ParkRecord.com
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Bill aims at reducing class sizes

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

With the Park City School District straining to trim costs as it looks for ways to also boost revenue, one bill before the House may look attractive, as it proposes additional funding for public education to lower student-to-teacher ratios.

House Bill 94, sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, would infuse public education with a total of $30 million to lower class sizes with the flexibility given to local schools and school boards on where monies could best be spent .

On Monday, Feb 19, The bill received a favorable recommendation by the House of Representatives with a vote of 13 to 2 .

The Park City School District prides itself on its high quality education, arguably due to a comparatively low student to teacher ratio of about 23 students per teacher. Increasing that ratio is one consideration when the 2007-08 budget is constructed by the district in March. With the district running dangerously low in reserves for the 2006-07 school year, a budget committee was formed to access the situation and make recommendations to the district. Those recommendations have been presented to the board, but they are still recommendations, and the district is still considering a multitude of options.

HB 94 is designed to help reduce class sizes throughout the state by providing schools with additional funding.

"The important thing is that this money can be used where needed, and can specifically go to some target areas that are critical," said Spackman Moss, during the House hearing of her bill. "For example, studies have shown that the biggest gains are made when you can lower class size in grades K-3. In addition, studies have shown that students who are at risk, students for who English is a second language, where we see the achievement gap with minority populations, this is where we see real progress when class sizes have been reduced."

Moss went on to say that currently, some classes with an already low student-to-teacher ratio may find it beneficial to further lower those class sizes according to need, but that money must then be taken away from other classes to pay for the lower student-teacher ratio. She said with her bill, specific classes could receive a class size reduction without having an adverse effect on other class sizes in the school.

Moss did look specifically at what it would take to lower class sizes to 20 for grades K-3 throughout the state, and said studies showed that approximately 37 million would be required. Moss was willing to lower that figure to $30 million for her bill.

"This is like a big wish list to have this kind of class size reduction, but I hope that you will support it," Moss said during her presentation.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Davis, Weber, asked what is currently being spent for class size reduction, and Moss believed it to be $74 million per year throughout the state. She said, should her bill pass, that figure would rise to approximately $104 million per year.

"Although the fiscal note is quite large, it’s something we need to face and be willing to fund frankly we are talking in terms of the quality of instruction and quality of work space, and class sizes definitely affect that, and for that, I support the motion," said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Salt Lake.

The public was invited to comment on the bill.

"Class size reduction has been one of the major concerns for parents," said Rhonda Rose, of the Utah PTA. "We feel as more students come into our school system, we have the ability to lower our class sizes, and we appreciate any help you can give us for that."

Words of concern came from a former teacher in Los Angeles, Dr. Davey McKay, who said when class sizes in grades K-3 were reduced to 20 or less in his local schools, teachers wanted teaching positions in those classes, where grades 4-6 went lacking for teachers.

"We most heartily support the bill," said Vic Arnold, a lobbyist for the Utah Teachers’ Association.

Moss, a teacher, ended the discussion of her bill with, "The size of class makes a difference in how you teach. It really does. The kind of instruction techniques, the methods you use have to be altered for the size of class you have.." She went on to say that with larger class sizes, teachers have to give direct instruction as opposed to more inventive techniques or being able to have students work in groups. "You ask parents of charter school students why their kids are in charter schools, and they say it’s because class sizes are smaller."

Should it HB 94 continue through the House, it then must repeat similar steps in the Senate before being signed into law by the governor.


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