May 19, 2003, 2:15 P.M.
Years of data suggest that the widely accepted concept that smaller class sizes and lower student/teacher ratios results in significant gains in student achievement. Reducing class size gets more kids in touch with teachers and lessons for several reasons: First, there is more time for the teacher to spend with each student. Second, there are fewer distractions, and finally, students receive better and more individualized instruction.
The Laconia School District has recently announced the layoff of 17 classroom paraprofessionals. Five of these positions were eliminated as a direct result of the cut to the school district’s budget by the city council on April 28. The remaining positions were cut both in an effort to comply with requirements of NCLB, which requires that classroom paraprofessionals have a minimum of a 2-year degree or the equivalent, and because of the budget. The school district hopes to eventually fill about half of these positions with more highly trained (and more highly paid) teachers. This is consistent with the district’s policy of reducing para-professional positions by attrition in past years.
When quality para-educators are in the classroom, a broader spectrum of students can be improved. These aides allow extra attention to be devoted to students of all abilities. NCLB recognizes this, but fails to recognize that more highly educated aides will expect and deserve higher pay.
The law requires that classroom aides have no less than a 2-year associate’s degree (or pass a qualifying exam) by 2006. Therefore, many current para-educators are not qualified to hold their positions under the act and these will require up to two years of schooling to be eligible for their current positions under the new law. This presents two obvious problems for the employee. First, an aide who does not have an associate’s degree or equivalent has to go back to school for up to two years in order to hold on to his or her current position. Second, such an aide will not be employable in that capacity by the school district until he or she has completed the degree. The provisions of NCLB do not contemplate the effect of the law on these under-qualified classroom aides. There is no funding mechanism in the bill that provides tuition assistance or loans to people affected by this provision, so in addition to not being able to work as an aide until the education requirements are met, these teacher’s aides will have to pay for their education themselves. School districts fear that they will lose good people to other professions because of this requirement.
The current budget gymnastics in Concord, relying heavily once again on “accounting magic” to make the numbers work, conjures up the specter of Enron with the state’s overstated earnings and underestimated expenses. Sen. Richard Green (R-Rochester) recently said of the current budget proposal, “The budget we have before us is only balanced if it uses unrealistic projections of revenue and unrealistic expectations of expenditures.” It is unlikely that any state funding will be available to assist in funding the hidden costs of NCLB. The net result of the passage of this budget will be a deeper education crisis, compounded by the unfunded mandates of NCLB.
Once again, it all falls to the local taxpayer. The Bush administration says that lowering taxes for the wealthiest among us will help the national economy; the local burden of this folly is staggering. The failure to recognize the hidden costs in NCLB, and the failure to provide funding for them are serious flaws in this law that will only add to the strife and conflict that school budgets create already in their communities.