Cost Cutting: Dan Patrick Says Drop Those Caps On Elementary Class Size

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Just in time for the 25th anniversary of the landmark Texas House Bill 72, Senator Dan Patrick has pre-filed a bill to amend it in several ways -- no, he's not touching No Pass, No Play -- but he is fiddling with the cap in place on the number of kids that schools can cram into their K-4th grade classes.

Right now, a school must have no more than 22 students in each of these classrooms. Patrick's Senate Bill 300 would change that to "a campus-wide average" of 22. Which brings up visions of two special-ed kids in one class being averaged with 42 kids in another class. Nah, couldn't happen, right?

Opponents, such as the Texas Elementary Principals Association, point out that there's already a waiver system in place to evade the cap.

Harley Eckhart, associate executive director of TEPA, tells Hair Balls most of the "exemplary" (the Texas Education Agency's top ranking) schools don't apply for a waiver.

TEA stats show that in 2007-2008, about 10 percent of the 500 or so exemplary campuses asked for and received class-size waivers. However the lower-ranked "recognized" and "academically acceptable" campsuses were much more waiver-friendly. About 40 percent of the 450 or so "recognized" schools got waivers and half the nearly 500 "academically acceptable" campuses received dispensation.

To Jackie Lain, associate executive director of  governmental relations for the Texas School Board Association -- a group that supports Patrick's bill -- the number of waivers proves that the cap system isn't working. And besides, she tells Hair Balls, each waiver only lasts a semester and it's a real hurdle to apply over and over again.

Lain hastens to add that her group supports smaller class size, "but especially in these difficult economic times," the TSBA thinks the individual school districts ought to be able to allocate their resources the best way possible. She thinks also that it might be proposed that a "particular" cap of, say, 25 be put in place for the largest class size. All of which would still be more "flexible."

Eckart is appalled, saying research has shown over and over again that smaller class size pays off with better-educated kids. Leaving it up to local control means some districts would maintain the 22-cap standard, while others would allow the number to creep ever larger, he says: "We just don't want to move backwards."

We put in a call to Patrick (whose bill also would make the school-bus evacuation drill a maybe, not mandatory; and, even better, would "encourage" rather than mandate that school districts buy light bulbs that are energy efficient), but haven't heard back yet. We'll update when we do.We also called the TASA (Texas School Administrators Association) which we hear may be against it, but they're checking.

It'll be interesting to see in coming days where the TEA the ATPE (Association of Texas Professional Educators), and the TSTA (Texas State Teachers Association) -- to name just some of the education groups -- will be weighing in on the Dan Patrick bill and whether Texas school kids will be SOL in the next school year.

Update: TASA says they are supporting Patrick's bill.

-- Margaret Downing

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