published Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam halts class size proposal, for now

  • photo
    Gov. Bill Haslam leads a discussion with teachers and school administrators at Scales Elementary School in Brentwood, Tenn. Haslam announced on Wednesday that he is abandoning a proposal to lift average class size restrictions.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam gave up Wednesday on his controversial proposal to let schools increase average class sizes, but said he plans to bring the measure back next year with modifications.

"We still quite frankly are committed to the idea," Haslam told reporters after informing legislative leaders. "But we have gotten feedback from across the state, whether it be school boards or superintendents or teachers or legislators [that] 'we don't think you've gotten this exactly right.'"

Haslam's plan called for giving local school districts more flexibility on average class-size caps while retaining maximum class-size caps on individual classrooms.

The Republican governor blamed difficulty in communicating his proposals.

"When the reason to do something takes you four minutes to explain, but the reason not to do something -- you can say large classes bad, small class sizes good -- takes five seconds, it's a difficult process," Haslam said.

"Maximum class size was not going to change at all in this bill," Haslam said. "The average class size was."

Letting schools add several students to classes would save money that districts could use to hire new teachers and better pay veterans who teach difficult subjects or in low-performing schools, the administration argued.

But the Tennessee Education Association warned the proposal potentially could mean the loss of thousands of teachers or teaching positions statewide.

Some parents, school boards and superintendents objected as well. School boards and superintendents feared county commissions would cut local funding or refuse to fund new positions.

Republican lawmakers said privately they were flooded with calls from upset parents opposed to larger class sizes.

Haslam said only Tennessee caps both the number of students per classroom and average schoolwide enrollment.

Should class sizes be capped?
  • Yes. 82%
  • No. 18%

331 total votes.

The difference between the average and the maximum is five students. In elementary schools, for example, no classroom can be larger than 25 students. But the schoolwide average can be no more than 20 students.

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, a Senate Education Committee member, thanked Haslam for dropping the issue this year.

"Because of discipline issues and the need for individual instruction, teachers can be more effective with fewer kids in the classroom," Berke said. "The governor wisely responded to feedback from parents and teachers in pulling this bill."

The Tennessee Education Association also is pleased, lobbyist Jerry Winters said.

Haslam "deserves a lot of credit for at least listening to educators and others and legislators who were catching a lot of heat on the class size issue," Winters said.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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