Class-size bargaining bill returns, challenging equity gains
Monday, March 1, 2021
For at least the fifth regular session in a row, a bill to make class size a mandatory bargaining subject is before the Legislature.
The Senate Education Committee will hear about Senate Bill 580 on Wednesday, March 3, but the underlying facts have not changed. Such a bill is bad for schools.
Currently, class size is a “permissive subject,” meaning both sides can discuss it during contract talks, but it does not have to be negotiated. SB 580 would require negotiations that could include paying teachers extra for larger classes and also open the possibility of a strike.
OSBA strongly opposes the bill, as it could drive up district costs without necessarily reducing class sizes or helping students. The Oregon Education Association is the bill's main proponent.
The bill's opponents agree large classes are a problem.
“There is no debate about class size in Oregon. None,” he told legislators. “Smaller class sizes are better for kids, better for teachers, and education is improved. … Unfortunately, that’s not the issue.”
The issue remains funding to pay for smaller classes. There is no guarantee that class-size bargaining in teacher contracts will lead to meaningful class-size reductions, because it does not address the issues of having sufficient space and money for more classrooms and teachers.
School districts are already bracing for tight budgets because of reduced legislative funding. SB 580 would likely exacerbate that funding challenge by moving money away from helpful programs and into higher staff costs.
Districts can’t add teachers without more funding, and many schools would need additional facility space as well to reduce class sizes.
Class size is among the least cost-effective ways for school districts to spend money on improving education, according to research.
Policy concerns about mandating class-size bargaining are especially acute in the COVID-19 crisis and in light of Oregon’s recent efforts to emphasize equitable student treatment.
Less than a month ago, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill touted equity as a chief reason for the dramatic increase in high school graduation rates, telling The Oregonian that this success was directly attributable to Oregon’s “continued efforts to foster equity and excellence.”
Mandatory bargaining over class size is mandating equality — everyone the same and one size fits all. This is not the model that Oregon has pursued because it is not best for students. Equity and justice are best for students, with local school leaders considering individual needs.