Local school districts largely remain immune to a nationwide trend of falling state budgets pushing class sizes higher.
“We have not experienced any class size increase in our system due to the state budget,” said Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips. “To compensate for state budget shortfalls, we made adjustments in other areas of our system to protect the classroom and student instruction.”
Lowndes County School District Superintendent Mike Halford admitted “major concerns” for the 2010-2011 school year, but does not expect an issue with increased class sizes this year.
“The LCSD established a budget that would protect the classroom,” he explained. “Maintaining reasonable class sizes was the first priority of the district.
“I do not expect a increase in class sizes, unless new enrollment increases dramatically,” he added.
“If we have a class size problem, it”s due to a lack of space and we”re alleviating that by adding more classrooms,” noted Starkville School District Superintendent Judy Couey.
“Our class sizes will generally remain the same,” reported Oktibbeha County School District Superintendent James Covington. “We did not cut any teaching positions or increase any class sizes.”
Nationwide, the recession is forcing districts to lay off teachers, even as the economic stimulus pumps billions of dollars into schools. As a result, classrooms across the country will be more crowded when school starts in the fall.
A survey this year by the American Association of School Administrators found that 44 percent of school districts expected to increase class size.
It”s the same story in small communities such as Pinson and Wapakoneta, Ohio, and urban areas including Los Angeles and Broward County, Fla. In many places, classes will have well over 30 kids.
Educators and parents worry the larger classes will keep kids from learning.
“The issue is how this affects kids and what price this generation is going to have to pay,” said John White, principal of Mulholland Middle School in Los Angeles, where the district has laid off more than 2,000 teachers.
Very large classes can keep teachers from teaching because their time is spent keeping order. Crowded classrooms also increase the chance that struggling students may fall through the cracks.
“I certainly won”t say there”s a magic number because it depends on the nature of the student group,” said Jeremy Finn, education professor at University at Buffalo-SUNY. “But in the elementary grades especially, there”s a certain point at which teachers can”t do what they were trained to do.”
Just as there”s a downside to bigger classes, there”s an upside to smaller ones, he said.
Research has shown that younger children, those in kindergarten through third grade, perform and behave better in smaller classes. Benefits are strongest for minority and poor children, Finn said.
Money from the economic stimulus has reduced the number of teacher layoffs, but job losses are still widespread. Although the stimulus provided an unprecedented $100 billion for education, that”s not enough to cover state and local budget shortfalls.
The stimulus boosted federal spending and helped restore cuts in state budgets, sources that together provide about 56 percent of school dollars. It did not make up for local tax revenues, which give schools the rest of their money.
Local revenues have been socked by the recession and may dip even lower because property assessments tend to lag behind a recession.
“It”s a little hard to tell whether this upcoming school year or the one after is going to be more difficult,” said Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the biggest urban public school systems.
Libby Quaid of The Associated Press contributed to this story.