State budget agreement still encourages class size limits

In an agreement worked out between the governor, Democratic leaders and the teachers unions, there remain some significant penalties for exceeding K-3 class-size reduction ratios as part of the new budget agreement.

The K-3 class-size reduction program includes two sanction elements one governing the per-student funding and the other per-classroom funding.

The budget agreement reached last week only changed the per-student funding formula.

Under the new law, there remains no penalty on districts that have classes up to 20.4 students. A five percent penalty will be imposed on classes between 20.5 and 21.5; another five percent to classes up to 22.5; five percent more up to 23 percent; another five percent for classes up to 25; and another 10 percent penalty for more than 25 students in a classroom.

While there had been some expectation that the new flexibility would mean districts could have classes with 25 or more students and still receive some of the Class Size Reduction money there is a catch that greatly reduces the benefit.

The program also still has in place a provision that limits to funding per-classroom to 20 students. Thus, a classroom with 25 students would only receive funding on 20 of them.

The California Department of Education points out in practical terms that, should a class in any grade (K-3) exceed 20.44 students, CSR funding will be reduced for that class only. Funding will not be lost for any other qualified CSR classes, regardless of grade level.

CDE advises:

This does not mean, however, that districts can ignore the grade level implementation priorities. For example, as noted in Education Code Section 52124(b) , at a school site, all classes in first grade must be reduced before any classes in second grade, and so forth. Therefore, districts cannot leave one or more classes in first grade unreduced, or identify a class as an "over flow" class, and still receive CSR funding for classes in other grade levels. The exception to this is contained in Section 15131(a) of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, which states:

"(a) Education Code Section 52124(b)(2) shall not be interpreted as precluding a school district from qualifying for funding for classes at grade 2 at a schoolsite if that school district unintentionally fails to meet the class size reduction requirement for all of its classes at grade 1 at that school site. Similarly, Education Code Section 52124(b)(3) shall not be interpreted as precluding a school district from qualifying for funding for classes in kindergarten or grade 3 at a school site if that school district unintentionally fails to meet the class size reduction requirement for all of its classes at grades 1 and 2 at that school site." (Emphasis added.)

Therefore, first or second grade classes that have never been reduced or that are allowed to grow beyond the bounds of "unintentional" will affect the grade level implementation priorities, and as such, could cause the loss of funding for CSR classes in the lower priority grades. (Note: this applies only to first and second grades. Third grade and kindergarten are the second priority grades, and as such, are not required to be fully reduced in one before reducing classes in the other.)

While there has been conversation around the state house that a more liberal interpretation will be introduced in some clean-up legislation, insiders said the agreement will not be altered.