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Merkley, colleagues offer $2 billion plan to cut class sizes


Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), introduced “bold new legislation” Wednesday to invest in smaller class sizes for public schools across America.

Here’s Merkley’s news release on the measure:

Smaller class sizes increase student achievement and improve working conditions for educators, but state budget cuts and federal underfunding of public schools have led to overcrowded classrooms in many school districts.

The Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act would reverse this troubling trend by investing $2 billion into smaller classroom sizes for kindergarten through 3 rd grade students, where small class sizes have been shown to have a positive effect on student outcomes.

“I attended Oregon public schools as a child, and I remember having around 20 children in my first grade class. But when I dropped my son off at his first day of first grade, there were 34 children in his class,” said Merkley. “Too many students in one classroom make it harder for teachers to do their jobs effectively, and for children to receive the individualized attention they need. We are the wealthiest nation on earth. We can afford to do better , and it’s time to invest in the high-quality public education every American student deserves.”

“Colorado teachers know that smaller class sizes are crucial to improve student outcomes,” said Bennet. “But shrinking public school investments and state budgets have resulted instead in larger classes and fewer resources. We need to do more to ensure teachers across Colorado and the country have the ability to give their students the attention and resources they deserve.”

“We know that when class sizes are smaller, teachers and students both perform better. It’s time to make a major investment in our classrooms so that every child in America has a chance to succeed,” said Harris. “I’ve been proud to support so many teachers around the country who have been marching for better conditions for themselves and their students and know that this bill would represent significant progress towards improving our public school system.”

“Our public schools are the backbone of the American education system. Students deserve to learn in classrooms where they can get the individualized attention they need, and the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act would provide school districts with the resources they need to support teachers and students by reducing the number of students in classrooms. This would help our teachers as they prepare their students for future success,” said Gillibrand. “Reducing classroom sizes is an important step we need to take to improve our education system, and I urge my colleagues to pass this legislation.”

“Numerous studies show that reduced class sizes lead to improved student engagement and performance. By helping states contend with crowded classrooms, this bill invests in our nation’s most precious resource: our young people. It is an investment we can’t afford not to make,” said Blumenthal.

“My first job out of college was as a special needs teacher in an elementary school, so I remember how critical it was for all children to get the attention they need, “said Warren. “I’m glad to support the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act, which affirms what teachers and parents know to be true: smaller class sizes help all of our kids succeed.”

A significant amount of research has consistently shown that smaller class sizes in early education, specifically kindergarten through third grades, are positively associated with student outcomes–especially for students from low-income families, disadvantaged backgrounds, or who have shown lower academic achievement. That’s why the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act would:

· Establish a $2,000,000,000 competitive grant program for school districts to reduce class sizes in K-3 grades to not more than 18 students per class.

· Award grants for a five-year period to school districts in which 75 percent or more of the population have incomes below the federal poverty line.

· Ensure that grant funding is used to recruit, hire, and train qualified teachers in K-3 grades.

· Enable school districts that have achieved class size recommendations in K-3 grades to obtain additional space or renovate existing school buildings in order to provide more classroom space and for the professional development of teachers in K-3 grades.

· Prioritize schools that serve the highest percentage of students from families with incomes below the poverty line, and then schools with the highest average class sizes in K-3 grades.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), National PTA, and First Focus Campaign for Children.

“Class size matters. That is, of course, if you care about the success of our students. That’s why the demand for smaller class sizes was central to so many of the teacher walkouts this year. You simply can’t offer students the engagement that is instructionally necessary with 40 or 50 kids in your classroom,” said Randi Weingarten, President of AFT. “It’s common sense that when classrooms are overcrowded, it is harder for teachers to teach and students to learn, and the research shows this: Smaller class sizes are directly linked to higher rates of student success. Most private schools have small class sizes, but shouldn’t we make sure it’s not just the wealthy whose kids have that opportunity? Sen. Merkley’s bill is a means to help make that possible for every student in this country. This legislation helps incentivize reducing class sizes, particularly in low-income districts that need it most. It’s an investment in students, in teachers and in the future success of our nation’s public schools.”

“If we are serious about every child’s future, we must get serious about doing what works to ensure every student has the support they need to succeed. This starts with ensuring all students have classes small enough for the one on one attention they deserve, a message at the heart of the #RedforEd movement that educators across the nation have powered,” said Marc Egan, NEA director of government relations. “We thank Senators Merkley, Bennet, Harris, Gillibrand, Blumenthal, and Warren for recognizing what educators and parents know: smaller class sizes help students.”

“National PTA applauds Senator Merkley for introducing the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act . What teachers and parents know and numerous studies demonstrate, smaller class sizes enable more time to be devoted to each student, student needs to be more easily identified and material to be covered more effectively, which positively impacts children’s achievement,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association. “Class size reduction efforts require a significant financial commitment for recruiting, hiring and training qualified teachers as well as increasing space in school buildings. This bill makes federal investments in these areas and is a step in the right direction toward reducing class sizes and increasing students’ learning.”

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