FAQ: How class-size reduction works in California

Get the answers to your questions about California's class-size reduction program as well as who to contact How did the program start? The program was initiated in 1996, to reduce average class sizes in K-3 grades to 20 students to every teacher. At the time, K-3 class sizes in California averaged 28.6 students, among the highest teacher-student ratios in the nation. It was motivated by research in Tennessee that showed that students in classes from 13 to 17 students did better academically. Do school districts have to participate? No. The program is voluntary. School districts don't have to participate, but the financial incentives – along with the program's popularity among parents and teachers – have resulted in almost every school district participating. Roughly 1.85 million K-3 students benefit from the program, at an annual cost of $1.8 billion to the state, according to 2007-08 figures. How does the subsidy work? School districts are required to monitor how many students are in a class, and report attendance figures to the state. To qualify for the full subsidy – currently $1,071 per student – school districts have to have average enrollment of 20.4-students-per teacher or fewer. The 20-to-1 ratio is an average of the daily attendance counts for each of a school's classes. School districts qualify for half of the subsidy if they limit class size to 20 students or fewer just during the time they receive instruction in math and reading, not for the entire school day. Can California still afford the program? Because of its popularity, the Legislature has preserved funding for class-size reduction, making it one of the few education programs to survive the budget axe. But because Sacramento does not cover the full costs, the Legislature has made it easier for school districts to raise class sizes. Until recently, schools lost their entire subsidy if the average reached 21.9 students. Now they will lose 20 percent of the subsidy if K-3 class size reach 24 students and 30 percent if class sizes go to 25 or more. How does California class size compare with other states? In 1996, California's K-3 class sizes were an average of 28.6 children – among the largest in the nation. The class-size reduction program brought California's K-3 class sizes in line with those in many other states. However, when looking across all 12 grades, California still lags far behind most states on another standard measure, teacher-student ratios. In 2007-08 California still had a higher teacher-student ratio than all other states except Utah and Arizona. Recent teacher layoffs, along with increases in class sizes, threaten to push California even further behind other states. (The ratios are reached by dividing student enrollments by the total number of full-time equivalent teachers, even though not all are classroom teachers.) Who do I contact about the program? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger 916.445.2841 gov.ca.gov/interact#email The governor is the major single decision-maker in how education dollars are spent.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento 916.651.4006 senator.steinberg@senate.ca.gov The Senate leader is often considered the second most powerful politician in the state – behind only Schwarzenegger. He can shape and influence budget and policy decisions coming out of the Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles 916.319.2047 speaker.bass@assembly.ca.gov Bass' office was instrumental in providing school districts more flexibility in how they spend class-size reduction funds. She has influence over all education policy coming out of the Legislature.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell 916.319.0800 superintendent@cde.ca.gov The state's highest-ranking education official was a major backer of class-size reduction and helps set policy for the state.

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