GREENSBORO — Any state-mandated class-size reductions should be paid for by the state, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a stop here Thursday afternoon.
“You can’t tell these local school districts to do this and that, and this and that, and not provide the right kind of funding,” he said.
Cooper visited Guilford Child Development’s Elm Street Center to tour the facility, meet with staff and promote the investments to early childhood education in his recently released state budget plan. The Democrat’s proposals — which include 4,700 more spots in NC Pre-K, a state program designed to prepare at-risk 4-year-olds for school— are just suggestions unless the Republican-dominated state legislature approves money for them.
Cooper took a wide range of questions from reporters, including one from the News & Record about the K-3 class-size reduction passed by state legislators last budget season and scheduled to take effect next school year.
Some school systems are worried about how they can hire enough teachers in time or pay for the change without significant budget cuts. Projecting $16.6 million in new costs and the need for 242 more teachers, the Guilford County Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution asking that any class-size reductions come with full funding, some flexibility and planning time.
“I believe in smaller class size. I think it helps educational outcomes, but I’m also ready to do what we need to do to fund public schools,” Cooper said Thursday.
However, he said he didn’t tackle the issue in his budget plan, released Wednesday.
“We’re ready to talk about it though,” he said.
He touted his “Best and Brightest” budget proposal that would give $10,000 annual scholarships to students who agree to work in North Carolina’s public schools for four years after graduation. That, he said, would help ensure additional teachers are available for hire if class sizes are decreased.
Legislators, hearing concerns from local school systems, seem interested in lessening the reductions required for next year.
Guilford County school board member Pat Tillman said during Tuesday’s meeting that he thought the board could be encouraged by what he had heard in conversations with state legislators as of that afternoon. In February, legislators passed House Bill 13, a compromise bill that would make class-size decreases for 2017-18 less severe than the ones approved in 2016. The proposed legislation is still in flux, Tillman said, adding that he heard the rewrites were moving toward more flexibility for school systems.
Cooper held his media availability session Thursday in a preschool classroom with 4- and 5-year-old students.
“I used to color paper plates,” he told a group of children doing just that. He said hello to the children taking part in story time in the other corner too, but they seemed more interested in “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen” than chatting up the governor.
The classroom is a blended Head Start-NC Pre-K classroom. It’s mostly financed by Head Start, a federal program promoting school readiness for children in low-income families, but NC Pre-K pitches in enough money to pay for the higher quality standards of its program.
Guilford County has the largest number of prekindergarten slots of any county in the state even though it’s the third largest county, said Robin Britt, the executive director of Guilford Child Development, one of the county’s largest nonprofits. He said that’s because the county’s child care community aggressively picks up slots other counties don’t fill. There’s a waiting list here for families wanting to get in.
“We would take as many as they would give us,” he said.