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National Politics

Members of Congress Want to Make Classroom Size a Federal Issue

A number of lawmakers want to make capacity limits for school classrooms a federal issue.

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Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA-06), U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH-11) say they’re working to address overcrowded classrooms by introducing the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act in both the House and Senate. The lawmakers have called the legislation ‘bold’ because it ‘invests in smaller class sizes in public schools.’

From the press release from Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath:

Students achieve better academic results when they have more individualized attention from instructors, especially in kindergarten through third grade, but class sizes have only continued to grow. That problem was only exacerbated during the COVID-19 global pandemic: School districts across the country transitioned to virtual learning, limiting in-person instruction and causing additional burden for hardworking teachers. As students return to the classroom, the lawmakers are making a bicameral push for better student outcomes with legislation that would reduce class sizes and allow students more one-on-one time with teachers—improving the overall school experience for both students and teachers.

“The role that teachers and educators play is critical in our children’s lives, and we must support our teachers so that students can receive an education that will set them up for future success. That includes more one-on-one time with their teachers, more tailored instruction opportunities, and more investment in developing the meaningful connection to instill a deep love of learning,” said Rep. McBath. “I thank Senator Merkley and Congresswoman Brown for their work and support on this important piece of legislation. It is efforts like these that will help us provide a brighter future for every American child.”

“I attended Oregon public schools as a child, and I remember having around 20 children in my first grade class. When I dropped my son off for his first day of school, his class had 34 children, and I wondered how his teacher could organize and teach such a large group,” said Senator Merkley. “Today, after a year and a half in which our students have been mostly in virtual school rooms, students have faced more challenges than ever, and too often they are unable to access the attention they need to excel in the classroom and recover from the learning losses of COVID-19. As the wealthiest nation on earth, we must ensure our children are able to succeed in academics, and that can’t happen in overstuffed classrooms. We can afford to do better, and it’s time to invest in the high-quality public education every American student deserves.”

The Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act, according to its sponsors, would:

  • Establish a $2 billion competitive grant program for school districts to reduce class sizes in K-3 grades to not more than 18 students per class.
  • Enable school districts to apply for grant funding to reduce class sizes, which the Secretary of Education will award based on the schools with the greatest need
  • Ensure that grant funding is used to recruit, hire, and train qualified teachers in K-3 grades.
  • Enable school districts that have achieved class size recommendations in K-3 grades to obtain additional space or renovate existing school buildings in order to provide more classroom space and for the professional development of teachers in K-3 grades.
  • Prioritize schools that serve the highest percentage of students from families with incomes below the poverty line, and then schools with the highest average class sizes in K-3 grades.

This bill is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, First Focus Campaign for Children, and the National Education Association.

The legislation itself is not yet available for public review.

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