On the eve of NC class size vote, many local parents feel 'betrayed'

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- From her family's dinner table in Cary, Renee Sekel, a full-time mom of three, finds herself with mixed emotions about Tuesday's vote at the state legislature. She's spent the last 11 months on the front lines of the fight over a state mandate to reduce class sizes.

"I wanted so very badly to like it," Sekel said. "I appreciate that (lawmakers) are doing something. But, I really resent and I'm quite furious about the way they went about it."

Sekel was one of the thousands of parents loudly pleading with state lawmakers to change an impending GOP-backed law mandating K-3 class sizes be reduced next school year - from 20 students per class to 17. Critics argued that without more funding, districts would be forced to cut hundreds of art, music and PE teachers.

House Bill 90 puts the brakes on the mandate:

  • Class sizes would be gradually lowered for the 2021-22 school year
  • $61 million to pay for art and PE teachers
  • Boosts funding for Pre-k, eliminating the waiting list.

State Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Cary, said he's a big yes on the bill.

"This represents an historic investment in our schools, particularly with respect to class size," Dollar said.

He defended the controversial components added on by Republicans; including changes to the state elections board - which is a response to a GOP loss in state Supreme Court, ruling earlier changes were unconstitutional.

Republicans also added a provision creating an education fund with money from energy companies building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through several coastal counties - contentious issues that could be challenged in court - now tied to the class-size fix.

"I think (Republicans) probably knew that and what really concerns me is, I think they did this on purpose so that people would be more hesitant to challenge the worst portions of the law in court," Sekel said.

Sekel agreed with many Democrats who argue for a "clean" class size bill, no strings attached.

"I think the state elections board is a relatively minor tweak based on what the courts have told us," Dollar said in defense of the Republican plan. "In terms of the (Atlantic Coast) pipeline, those are additional dollars that are going to go to education in some really challenged school districts down east."

The Senate passed this House Bill 90 last Thursday. The House is expected to vote Tuesday morning. And it will likely pass.

Gov. Roy Cooper is not a fan of the add-ons by Republicans. But there's no indication yet on whether he plans a veto.
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