Haslam Scraps Proposal to Give Locals Control of School Class Sizes

Gov. Bill Haslam says he is setting aside his controversial plan to grant school districts the flexibility to determine class sizes.

The issue has been the most contentious of the governor’s priorities, with critics suggesting that it will lead to larger class sizes and lower education standards. The impetus behind the governor’s plan was to free up education dollars to fund pay increases to high-performing teachers tackling hard-to-teach subjects or working with at-risk students.

After conferring with teachers and lawmakers for the past several weeks, the governor on Wednesday said he’s found it much easier to explain the reasons not to pursue his plan than publicly articulate why it makes sense.

“We are saying now, we will wait and work on that and pursue it with some adjustments next year,” Haslam told reporters in his Capitol Hill office. “What we’ve proposed, it’s a fairly complicated explanation and the argument against it is real simple.”

The governor said his administration is committed to the concept of giving local school boards more latitude to adjust teacher-to-student ratios along with finding ways to pay certain teachers more. He said he will refine the plan before reintroducing the concept next year.

Haslam’s move represents his first official legislative retreat since taking office last year.

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she backs Haslam’s original goal, but supports his decision to take some time to improve upon the idea and arguments he’ll use to try to sway skeptics.

“I understand what he was trying to accomplish but I think that the concerns expressed regarding the importance of classroom size were ones that really we’re going to have to just work with our locals a little bit more to get them to fully understand what the governor was attempting to do here originally.”