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Lawmakers Debate Class Size

By Mose Buchele, KUT News

Austin, TX – Texas could save up to a billion dollars a year, if it loosens a cap on class sizes in public schools. It's an idea gaining traction among some lawmakers. But could those savings are too good to be true? KUT's Mose Buchele reports.

It's been a long-held belief among American educators: the smaller the class size, the better the education. That led Texas to implement a 22 student per teacher cap on kindergarten through fourth grade in 1984. It's been like that until now, when a shrinking state budget has forced lawmakers to re-examine many long-held beliefs.

Rob: "As we look at the current numbers and money and school district situation, what can we afford today?"

Republican State Representative Rob Eissler of The Woodlands authored H.B. 18. The bill requires the Texas Education Agency to grant exemptions to districts that want larger classes. There are some caveats there. Class size still couldn't go above 25 students per teacher, and the TEA would have to agree that the increase wouldn't "negatively affect the education of students." But to that end they have some new ammunition, says education consultant Ed Fuller.

Ed: "Some people are arguing currently that we'd be better off having larger classes and then getting rid of our weakest teachers and keeping our strongest teachers."

Representative Eissler, for example, points to a new study by the Brookings Institute. It claims the impact of class size on student performance has been overstated. Eissler says that increasing the class size in Texas one child per class could save the state one billion dollars a year. That could help troubled school district. Austin ISD, for example, would save ten million dollars by increasing class size to 24 students per teacher, according to school board chair Mark Williams. But Ed Fuller warns, those saving could be an illusion.

Ed: "When we increase class sizes, the kids that need the most individual attention aren't going to get that and those are the kids that are at the most risk of dropping out."

Higher dropout rates, Fuller argues, will cancel short-term financial gain from larger class sizes.

Ed: "Ten to twenty years from now, we're going to see this impact on college readiness, and the legislators that passed all these bills, they'll be long gone."

H.B. 18 is scheduled to come up before the full house on Thursday.