State Republican legislative leaders announced a fix to the class size mandate, which would phase in smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade over the next four years instead of an immediate fix this school year.

Last spring the General Assembly required local school systems to reduce their class sizes starting in the 2018-19 school year. Class sizes for K-3 grades would be capped at 18 for kindergarten, 16 for first grade, 17 for second and third grade.

School officials worried they would not be able to meet the mandate without additional funding, and would have to eliminate extracurricular classes like art, music, and physical education to save space and money. Critics rallied against the mandate, arguing it would create chaos in the classroom and overcrowding in other grade levels as schools struggle to lower class sizes in k-3 grades.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Randolph, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, and Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake presented the legislative fix during a Thursday, Feb. 8, press conference.

The press conference took place leading into a fiery meeting of the joint legislative appropriations committee, in which the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was discussed.

The proposed resolution comes as a conference committee substitute to House Bill 90 and gives school officials more time to prepare for class reductions. School administrators would have another year for planning before they are required to phase in class size reductions. In addition, the provision allocates over $60 million for art, music, and physical education teachers.

School districts will get $250 million in additional recurring funds by the 2021-22 school year to fund additional enhancement teachers.

The House and Senate could vote on the provision by Friday.

“We’re committed to lowering class sizes logically, reasonably, and in good time,” Horn said.

Barefoot said the research shows lower class sizes improve academic performance. Barefoot added this plan should have bipartisan support.

In addition to addressing the class size mandate, the conference committee substitute also proposes additional funding to expand the NC Pre-K program. The provision proposes more than $82 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year and $91 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year and each subsequent fiscal year.

Horn said expanding the early education program helps to ensure all children can read proficiently by the third grade. He expressed concern that many children are not prepared to start school.