Local lawmaker pushes to increase student-teacher ratio

January 5, 2011 5:23:27 PM PST
A move to save money could impact your child's education. A Houston lawmaker is pushing to put more students in each classroom. The current ratio of 22 students to one teacher was passed 25 years as part of an education reform bill that included no pass, no play. Now a local state senator is looking to repeal it to help the state save money during a budget crunch.

A shakeup of the Texas elementary classroom is being proposed as the state deals with a budget shortfall of more than $20 billion. It means all Texas elementary kids in grades K-4 could see more students added to their classrooms. Some teachers say learning in the early grades is crucial.

"This is when they learn to read, to sound out phonics, this is when they learn their math basics and all those basics have to be in place," said Frances Smith, President of Cy Fair TSTA.

Currently, state laws says K-4 grade classes cannot exceed more than 22 students. Legislators want that to become merely an average for each district. Former governor Mark White helped pass the landmark legislation back in 1984.

"As a result of those improvements known as House Bill 72, Texas students started achieving at much higher levels. We saw progress made in every grade level," said White.

But facing tough decisions on where to make cuts, State Senator Dan Patrick says education is not immune and a larger class size could save the state $500 million a year.

"The argument of just don't cut any money, that must mean education is working perfectly. Well, I would argue education is not working perfectly -- our dropout rate is pretty high," said Senator Patrick. "It doesn't mean that the money is the issue. It may be the quality of teaching, it may be the programs we are offering."

Right now, districts can apply for a waiver to increase their class size. Sen. Patrick says the paperwork is time consuming and it's time to trust the superintendents of each district.

"If they think one classroom can handle 24 students and another shouldn't have more than 16, I'm going to trust their judgment," said Sen. Patrick.

Larger elementary class sizes spells jobs cuts for as many as 10,000 teachers. And the ones left in the classroom to handle a larger work load.

"When the number of children goes up, the difficulty of getting around to everybody goes up exponentially," Smith said.

A vote on the issue could come next month. We called HISD and the district declined to go on camera, but a spokesperson says they favor bigger classrooms to help their bottom line.

A report from the Texas Education Agency said that research across the country indicated that class size has the greatest impact on student achievement when classes are less than 20 students. The report also found disadvantaged and minority students get the biggest benefit out of smaller class sizes.