North Salt Lake lawmaker vows to tackle class sizes

Nov 20 2012 - 12:21am

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Rep. Becky Edwards
Rep. Becky Edwards

Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, says she will push for measures to cap enrollments for grades K-3 during the coming legislative session, for the second straight year.

Legislation to address classroom size is hardly new, but Edwards hopes the timing to address the issue is right.

Last session, SB 31, sponsored by Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, passed the Senate before dying in committee in the House. Edwards was the House sponsor of the measure. Edwards sees some positive signs from what happened with the measure in getting as far as it did.

The legislation, as outlined in the past session, would allow districts to bring in paraprofessionals, such as graduate assistants, to work with elementary school students at the beginning grades and would link an accountability system to state funds targeted for districts to address classroom sizes.

Utah spends less per pupil than any other state in the U.S. and has the highest classroom sizes of any state in the nation. Utah's teachers are also among the lowest-paid in the country.

Morgan said Utah has a pressing need to address classroom sizes, especially at the early elementary school levels. She notes that 36 states have caps on classroom sizes -- and Utah is not one of them.

"Children build the foundation for learning in those early grades, especially in reading," Morgan said.

Morgan, who is retiring, said the good news is that the state projects it will have a bit more revenue during the 2013 year. The bad news is that growth numbers at the elementary school level are larger than the projected growth.

There are 614,000 new students coming into the state system.

Edwards said it is clear from the data that one-on-one attention in the classroom makes a big difference in the early grades.

Brad Asay, an art teacher in the Ogden School District, thinks classroom size makes a big difference at the high school level, too.

The Clinton resident said his classes have ranged from 25 to 45 students over the years and the small class sizes have always led to better results.

"In every case, those classes that have 25 to 30 students average better grades, test scores ..." Asay said.

"When you can interact with a student individually at least two to three times in a 45-minute period, it is proven that there's a higher likelihood that students will understand the concepts being taught, more likely to ask for help or clarification, trust the teacher and be successful."

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