Right now, a Wyoming second-grader will likely share a classroom with 18 other students at most. Thanks to a decision by a little-known government body, that number could eventually jump to 24.
Twenty-four other students would mean less face time with the teacher. It would mean more potential distractions. And it would result in a markedly different experience for every child in that class.
Parents rely on their elected officials to represent their needs and the needs of their children. They want to know that should an issue arise, they can contact their representatives to ensure their views are understood.
That’s why the decision to increase class sizes should be spearheaded by the Legislature. Instead, it was led by the State Facilities Commission, a less-understood group that doesn’t respond to the will of the voters in the same way.
To be clear, the commission did not unilaterally increase class sizes. However, it did change a policy that could mean new buildings will be constructed with fewer classrooms, likely putting more elementary students in each space.
This policy change could have a significant impact on quality of education as students receive less attention and guidance from their teachers during a critical stage in their development.
The policy could also impact funding for schools: An increase in class sizes to just 20 to 1 could reduce funding by $57 million and result in layoffs of over 700 teachers throughout the state, if the Legislature chooses to follow the commission’s model.
The State Facilities Commission has argued that the measure was a cost-saving one, which is a laudable goal amid the economic downturn. Besides, its members say, schools are not bound to increase classroom capacities above the 16 to 1 ratio.
We know cost-saving measures are necessary, with the state in the grips of a hundred-million dollar funding shortfall. We also realize that tough decisions are required and not everyone will come out unscathed.
Wyoming has been able to provide some of the smallest elementary school class sizes in the nation, with most classrooms in the US averaging 21 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Perhaps that means, given the state’s financial situation, there would be support for raising the ratios. But if that increase is warranted, we’d like to see the Legislature lead the way.
After all, lawmakers are directly elected by the people, and in Wyoming, it’s relatively easy for citizens to contact their legislators and make their voices heard.
When a tough decision has to be made, it should be made by chosen representatives, instead of a little-known committee, so that parents aren’t left in the dark. For so many of our residents, there is nothing more important than the education of their children. On this issue especially, they should be able to reach out to decision-makers before a choice is made.
The commission should table its decision. Its members should let lawmakers lead the way. If the Legislature chooses to raise class sizes, the commission can change its policies to bring them into compliance. But the process should start with our elected representatives, not end with them.