Wagoner bill would limit class sizes

Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alaska’s public school teachers up through third grade would lecture to no more than 20 students at a time under a bill filed by Sen. Tom Wagoner on Monday.

Senate Bill 204, pre-filed Dec. 30, would limit class sizes to 20 students unless the school employed a part-time teaching assistant for each class with more than 20 but less than 25 students.

For each class in excess of 24 students, schools would have to hire full-time teaching assistants.

Teaching assistants are defined as persons employed by a school to provide classroom instructional services to pupils at the direction of a teacher.

If passed, provisions of SB 204 would be phased in over the next three years.

The maximum pupil-teacher ratio for grade one would have to be met by July 1, 2007, for grades one and two by July 1, 2008, and for all three grades by July 1, 2009.

The big unanswered question — and one not dealt with in the text of the bill — is how much such a program would cost and who would pay for it.

“We haven’t gotten a fiscal note back yet,” Wagoner said late Monday. “But we are worried about the impact. The Department of Education has not come up with a figure yet.”

Wagoner said many school districts have been slow to come up with cost estimates.

Regardless of the cost, every study he’s read has shown that class size, especially in the early grades, has a direct correlation with the ability of students to learn later on.

“It goes hand in glove,” he said. Passing the bill, he added, “could do more for the quality of education we provide than anything else. We worry about 10th-graders testing out, but we shove way too many children into elementary classrooms where they formulate their learning skills.”

According to district data, in schools where the three classes are separated, there are 21 first-grade classes with a total of 459 students, for an average class size of 21.85 students. There are 17 second-grade classrooms with 366 students, an average of 21.5 students. There are also 17 third-grade rooms with 378 students for an average of 22.2 students per classroom.

School district employee Sherry Innes, who works in human resources, said there are 31 combination classrooms in the district, making breaking down the figures to first-, second- and third-grade students more difficult. However, she said no combination room exceeds the averages above, and the overall average for combination rooms likely would be lower.

A snapshot look at the district shows many schools would fall under provisions of Wagoner’s bill. School officials provided the following numbers.

Sears Elementary has three first-grade classrooms with more than 20 students but less than 25. Sears has two second-grade classes in the same range. The school has no third-grade classrooms.

The Sears school building shares space with Kaleidoscope School, which has one first-grade class, one combined first and second class, one second-grade class, and two combining second and third. All are single-teacher classrooms and all have more than 20 but less than 25 students.

Mountain View Elementary has three third-grade classrooms with more than 20 students, none more than 25.

Nikiski-North Star Elementary School has two first-grade classes each more than 20. It also has two second-grade rooms with more than 20 and two third-grade rooms of more than 20. One combining a second- and a third-grade class has 22 total.

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