Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Virginia should enforce its class-size standards

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Virginia's Standards of Quality are constitutionally mandated, minimum requirements governing all public school divisions in the commonwealth. As the statutory base used to determine state funding, SOQs are enforceable law, not just recommendations.

They're also quite specific about the maximum class size allowed under the Virginia Code: "24 [students] to one [teacher] in kindergarten, with no class being larger than 29 students ... 24 to one in grades one, two, and three with no class being larger than 30 students ... 25 to one in grades four through six, with no class being larger than 35 students."

Fairfax County Public Schools appears to have violated these specific caps when it crammed 37 students into a third grade math class and 38 students into a fourth grade math class at Wolftrap Elementary. This happened even though FCPS' fiscal 2013 budget sets aside $11 million per year to fund up to 250 extra teaching positions to prevent such overcrowding.

Similar overcrowding is occurring at other Fairfax County schools. In October, 200 frustrated parents -- who have been complaining about unreliable enrollment projections at Haycock Elementary for the past nine years -- told the School Board that 30 percent of their classrooms were crammed with 30 or more students. One substitute teacher reported that her son's previous first-grade class had 35 children -- five over the state limit -- while other county schools had classrooms with as few as 12 students.

FCPS uses a "needs-based staffing" ratio to determine how many teachers to send to each school. Most school systems give extra weight to low-income and non-English-speaking students, but since FCPS' ratio is even higher than Baltimore's, larger class sizes for regular and academically advanced students are inevitable.

But there's still a limit. FCPS got away with putting 38 kids in one fourth-grade class by claiming that its teacher-student ratio divisionwide is within SOQ parameters. This excuse is impossible to reconcile with a state law that clearly says that "no class" in grades four through six can have more than 35 students. There's no point in having class-size standards if school administrators are allowed to "average out" the numbers.

Virginia Board of Education President David Foster told The Washington Examiner that the state is "looking into whether the situation in Fairfax creates any Standards of Quality issues." It seems pretty simple to us. When class sizes exceed the statutory limit, less "looking" and more enforcing seems warranted.

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