Onefifth of districts seek 221 waivers (Updated)

Teachers and school kids continue to pay the price for the state budget cuts. Approximately 187 school districts, almost onefifth of the state’s total, have applied to the Texas Education Agency for waivers to the 221 class size limit in kindergarten through fourth grade. (An earlier version of this post said 204 districts, but TEA corrected the count this morning to 187. Some applications had earlier been counted twice.)

TEA can’t say if this is a record number, but it may very well be. It is a significant increase over the 168 districts requesting waivers in 201011 and the 144 districts filing requests in 20092010.

The district total tells only part of the story because some of the larger, fastestgrowing districts are seeking multiple waivers. According to a recent story in the San Antonio ExpressNews, for example, San Antonio’s Northside ISD alone wants waivers for 440 elementary classes, and there have been other media reports of districts with as many as 100 or more classes on their waiver lists. The bottom line is that thousands of K4 classes likely will exceed the 221 limit, although TEA hasn’t finished that count.

Many school boards and administrators have been trying for the past several years to get the Legislature to raise or abolish the cap, and they renewed their request this year, arguing they needed more local “flexibility” in the face of anticipated cuts in state funding.

But the cap is overwhelmingly popular with parents, who recognize its value in creating a strong educational environment for young students who need individual attention from their teachers. So, the Legislature technically left the 221 limit intact. Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority, who slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget, simply passed the buck to local school districts. And, state Education Commissioner Robert Scott made it easier for districts to get 221 waivers by adding “financial hardship” as a new reason for exceeding the cap.

Historically, the TEA has rejected only one waiver request since 221 became law in 1984. And, there is little reason to expect waivers to be denied this year.

More waiver requests may be filed if districts experience enrollment increases during the school year, and, with them, even more students getting less of the individual attention they need for successful learning.


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