By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday urged cash-strapped local school districts to prioritize spending on top teachers over limiting classroom sizes.
Speaking at a Girls State event at Lipscomb University, the governor acknowledged that larger classrooms mean less individual attention for every student.
“But if you’re going to make an investment, I’d rather invest in getting great teachers and paying them more and have the larger (classrooms) than doing the opposite,” he said.
The governor’s annual spending plan fully funded the state’s school funding formula known as the Basic Education Program. But budget pressures at the local level are causing some school districts to lay off teachers and expand class sizes.
Haslam said his education agenda has focused on improving teacher performance, including a new law that makes it more difficult for teachers to earn and keep tenure job protections.
“I’m trying to push our education to make certain that we have a great teacher in front of every classroom, regardless of classroom size,” he said.
Haslam has also said he will sign into law a separate bill curbing teachers’ collective bargaining rights that also does away with unions’ ability to block merit pay programs.
Haslam said class size alone isn’t enough to determine whether students will succeed.
“Most studies have shown that teacher-class size is not as a direct relationship to achievement,” he said. “Having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students, in terms of the results produced.
“That being said, you can’t deny the fact that larger classes mean less individual attention.”