Pop quiz: What's worse than having 32 kids in a high school math class?
How about having 33. Or 34. Or 40.
That's the reality waiting for teachers in Georgia next fall, after the State School Board voted this week to eliminate its statewide class size limit. Previously, classes were capped at 32 students. But with budgets being slashed and teachers' jobs on the line, the Board gave local districts the flexibility to expand class sizes as a way of cutting costs.
The positive effects of smaller classes are well-documented: kids in classes of 17 students or fewer are more likely to take the SAT, take honors classes, and graduate. Larger classes let kids hide in the back and fall further behind. But this week's decision was a lesser of two evils situation, says Georgia School Board chair Wanda Barrs:
"Increasing class size is never ideal, but a slight increase will allow systems to significantly conserve resources while managing through these difficult times."
Over at Change.org, Alison Leithner wonders whether those "difficult times" could pose a physical risk for students, as well as an intellectual one:
A basic concern associated with an increase in students is the ability to fit everyone in the same room. Do these high schools have rooms large enough to fit, say, 45 students, desks, books and bags without being fire hazards?
The School Board says safety regulations will still be met, but Leithner's fears aren't unheard of—teachers in Chicago are using the same argument to fight back against plans to push class sizes in the Windy City to 35.
Fire hazard or no, there's a larger issue here. And that's what Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat running for governor, focused on in his response to the Board's move:
"For a decade, our leaders have been on a spending spree with a credit card. Now the bill has come due, but instead of cutting government waste to pay for their spending, the politicians are cutting education, just like they always do. Education is the last place they should cut, not the first. Georgia’s kids deserve better."
Day after day, we're seeing painful cuts being made because of shrinking budgets. Yesterday it was summer school; today it's class size limits. But there's one constant: the kids end up footing the bill.