(The Center Square) – Oklahoma increased state aid to public schools to $3.1 billion this year, activating a law that limits class sizes for kindergarten and first grade, but many districts may be exempted.
"Overcrowded classrooms are a very visual symptom of long-running budget issues in Oklahoma," Katherine Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told The Center Square. "We had 10 years of cuts to the education budget prior to 2018. Since then, the legislature has increased education funding. And, fortunately, this year we reached a level of state revenue that kicks in a required class limit of no more than 20 students in kindergarten and first grade classrooms."
The exemption occurs when a district is at 85% bonded indebtedness. Statistics show that during the 2020-21 school year, nearly 20% of the state's districts would have been exempt from these limits because they had reached or exceeded their bonding capacity, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Many of these were some of the state's largest districts.
Parents have expressed concern about overcrowded classrooms. Those who have done so may not get their wish.
“Lower class sizes give students more one-on-one attention from the teacher and make both teaching and learning not only much easier but also more dynamic," Bishop said. "If you ask any parent what makes a great school, small class sizes will always be at the top.”
Student safety in large classes is a concern, Bishop said.
“Teachers always put student safety first, regardless of class sizes," Bishop said. "Sometimes, that means the students are short-changed. For instance, it’s not always safe for a chemistry class of 45 high schoolers to all try and complete labs at the same time. Those teachers have to find ways to teach the same material in ways less than optimal.””