Class-size bill with equity considerations moves forward
Monday, May 24, 2021
A curtailed class-size bill isn’t the one everybody wanted, but it is one that school leaders say they can live with.
Senate Bill 580 was amended and approved Monday by the House Business and Labor Committee. It would make class size a mandatory collective bargaining issue in schools that qualify for Title I federal assistance.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Tina Kotek proposed amending the bill to focus on schools with the students most in need. Although the bill still takes some control away from local school leaders, OSBA and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators signaled their acceptance.
“I’m happy the Legislature heard the equity concerns that school districts and administrators raised and narrowed the bill away from a one-size-fits-all mandate,” said Richard Donovan, OSBA Legislative Services specialist.
Donovan has been working on the issue since at least 2017.
Past bills supported by the Oregon Education Association have tried to make class size a subject over which unions can strike during contract negotiations. Currently, unions can raise the issue but can’t force talks.
Opponents said requiring class-size negotiations would not significantly reduce class sizes or help students.
The original bill would have applied to all schools, but school advocates, including OSBA, raised troubling equity issues.
Districts that have allowed bargaining typically reach a deal in which teachers are paid extra for class sizes over a set limit. Schools, facing limited funds and space, often can't reduce class sizes, though, and must arrange classes so that students most in need of help are in the smallest groups. Data from Portland Public Schools, which has a class-size contract clause, show the bonus payments overwhelmingly going to schools serving more well-to-do students.
Although some legislators expressed support Monday for the original bill, the amendments’ equity aspects helped assuage them.
“It is so important that this bill be implemented so that we are able to use this in our most vulnerable communities and get our most vulnerable populations of schoolchildren the class sizes that they deserve,” said Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard, during the hearing.
The bill now goes to the House floor. It will then return to the Senate because it was amended after its passage from that chamber.