By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged Thursday that his class size proposal has received with “mixed reviews,” but vowed to press ahead with the measure intended to help schools fill high-priority teaching positions.
The Republican governor said in a speech at a luncheon hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association that his administration is still working to build support for the measure that would do away with average class size restrictions.
“It has been met with mixed reviews — I guess that’s a charitable way to say it,” the governor said in a speech to state editors and publishers.
Under current law, elementary school classes are capped at 25 students, but schools can maintain an average of no more than 20 students per class. Haslam says getting rid of the latter provision would free up money for schools to pay more for teachers in key locations or subjects.
“We think that flexibility is very, very helpful,” he told reporters after his speech. “The answer is not, I agree, to just increase class size to free up more money to do other things. That’s not the right answer.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the proposal has met with some resistance.
“Legislators have heard from folks back home that there’s some legitimate concerns to what this does to funding,” she said. “Most teachers hold very sacred the ability to have small classroom sizes.”
“There is some resistance, there’s no doubt about it,” she said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said earlier at the same event that supporters have done a poor job of selling the proposal to local school administrators and parents concerned about more classes being filled to capacity.
“I’m not going to say it’s dead,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville. “At the same time we’re regrouping and trying to figure out what local systems want.”
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he’s surprised the Haslam administration didn’t see the negative response coming.
“Some things you just don’t need to study to figure out,” he said. “You just know that if you have a classroom with 15 kids, it’s better than a classroom with one teacher and 30 kids.”
Fitzhugh said if the administration wants to pay certain teachers better, it should include more money in the budget for salaries.
But Haslam said trying to target that money through the state’s school funding formula would be too expensive.
“In terms of making a significant impact statewide, (if) we put enough money in there for the district to have significant salary adjustments, you’re talking a really, really large number to the state,” he said.
Haslam said he’s willing to consider changes to his proposal, but wasn’t prepared to say which tweaks he’d entertain.
“We’re in the middle of a lot of discussions, with superintendents, with teachers, with school boards to find something that will work,” he said. “There’s various options, but I’m probably not prepared to go into them right now.”
Read SB2210 at: http://capitol.tn.gov