California’s Budget Shortfall Causes Increase in Class Sizes

This post was written by jd on August 17, 2010
Posted Under: Education

By Judy Pinegar

Judy Pinegar is the Manager of the California Department of Education Waiver Office. The function of the Waiver Office is to manage the process of school districts, charter schools and county offices of education requesting waivers of state statute (Education Code) or regulation (Title 5 California Code of Regulation) which are then heard by the State Board of Education. Recently she was interviewed about the increasing trend of local educational agencies requesting waivers of the statute which charges a penalty if the class sizes rise above certain levels.

Current state limits set in 1964 are as follows: 1) Kindergarten: Average 31, not to exceed 33 in a single classroom; 2) Grades 1-3: Average 30; 32 maximum; and 3) Grades 4-8: Average 29.9, or whatever the class size was in 1964. Local educational agencies requests to increase class sizes is a reflection of  their lack of funds and attempts to avoid teacher layoffs.

Sacramento Bee, Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

“California students returning to school this month are finding some of the biggest class sizes in more than a decade. And they are likely to get even bigger. Large numbers of school districts are bombarding the state with requests to expand classes beyond the legal limits.

The California Board of Education which reviews class-size waiver requests, gave out 16 exemptions in an 11-month period ending in July. Since then, the board heard 16 more waiver requests at its board meeting Aug. 2 and expects another 16 in September, said Judy Pinegar, manager of the waiver office at the California Department of Education.

The state had no requests for class size increases between 1999 and 2009. “It’s the hot item right now,” Pinegar said. “I’m expecting almost every district in the state to request one.”

The state allows an average of 31 students in kindergarten, 30 in first through third grade and 29.9 in fourth through eighth grade. The waivers allow school districts to avoid stiff financial penalties for going over allowable class sizes. Without a waiver, districts can lose nearly all the state funding for each child over the limit.

The state school board has been accommodating. “The board is recommending up to 33, no higher than that,” Pinegar said. “No district has otherwise convinced the board.” The main criteria for an exemption, said Pinegar, is if paying the penalty would hurt student learning.

The requests have not been without controversy. The California Teachers Association protested the waivers at the August meeting, Pinegar said.

But research on whether class sizes affect student learning isn’t clear. A five-year study paid for by the state and conducted by a consortium of research groups could not determine whether class-size reduction was responsible for increases in achievement test scores during that time.”

To read the whole article go to:Sacremento Bee

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