Governor Cooper visits elementary school in Greensboro to address school funding concerns

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Governor Roy Cooper went to Southern Elementary School in Greensboro on Thursday.

The governor visited classrooms and read to preschoolers. His main priority during the visit, though, was concerns about funding class size reductions.

State legislators created a mandate requiring classes have an average of 20 students, no more than 23, in kindergarten through third grade last year.

“We certainly believe in class size reduction,” said Dr. Sharon Contreras, the Guilford County Schools Superintendent.

But now, the idea is putting schools in a financial bind.

“It is a significant issue for us,” Dr. Contreras said.

“It sounds like a good idea on paper, but if you don't fund it, in reality it can be chaotic,” Governor Cooper said.

Guilford County Schools spent $8 million to follow the rules this year.

Next year, classes will need to be even smaller and that’s going to cost them. Guilford County Schools would need to hire 200 teachers, costing around $11 million dollars.

Forsyth County Schools say it would need around 40 new ponds (structures with several classrooms inside), likely costing them around $20 million dollars.

Forsyth County Schools already hired 65 new teachers this year and will need around 100.

Leaders in both counties are concerned about where they are going to get the teachers from and what is going to happen if they don’t find them or enough space.

“What would we lose? What is the tradeoff? Art, music, PE,” Dr. Contreras said. “Ballooning class sizes in grades four through eighth grade. We’ve had to offer some of these combination classes (two grades in one class), which I don't think are the best way to provide education to students.”

Governor Cooper says he’s heard concerns from schools across the state, that’s why he came to the Triad today.

“I'm here today to say to the general assembly, ‘if class size is priority, fund it, fund it and if you aren't ready to do that now, at least figure out a way to phase it in so that we don't hurt our kids, so that we don't hurt our schools,’” Governor Cooper said.

Governor Cooper says the decision to fund the schools will need to be made soon because school leaders are planning their budget for next year.