F.C. School Board Weighs In on ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Talks, Reaffirms Class Size Limits

Cautions Against Sequester Impact On Education

The City of Falls Church School Board wasted no time after the conclusion of the national election last week to issue a statement calling for “No Fiscal Cliff for Education.” The national debate following Tuesday’s election shifted immediately to the intense negotiations that are now underway to address the Dec. 31 deadline to avoid a massive sequestration of funding for federal programs.

The Falls Church School Board’s statement noted that such a sequestration would cut eight percent of funding for all federal education programs.

“Federal education programs face more than an eight percent budget cut next year unless Congress and the President intervene,” the statement read, adding that the School Board “adopted a resolution urging Congress and the President to find a path away from the across-the-board cuts to federal programs that would occur under a process called sequestration (the “fiscal cliff”) that was enacted under the Budget Control Act of 2011.” It noted that, for Falls Church and other impacted school districts, the cuts are estimated at 8.2 percent of current federal funding. The board’s resolution says the cuts could mean “larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, shorter school weeks, loss of extracurricular activities, reduced special education and limited English proficiency services, and teacher and staff lay-offs.”

“Nationwide, sequestration would cut education funding by more than $4 billion, and would affect the Falls Church City schools’ budget by more than $50,000 at a time when states and local governments have very limited capacity to absorb further federal budget cuts to education,” it added.

“Given the enrollment increases we’ve seen – more than 12 percent – and the absolute and per student budget cuts we’ve made since 2008, there is simply no line in our budget left to cut,” said School Board Chair Susan Kearney. “Even though federal funds are just a small percentage of our budget, any further cuts in education funding could adversely affect the quality of our education programs. And such cuts could have a devastating impact on schools elsewhere in Virginia and around the country that rely more heavily on federal funds.”

The statement, which will be forwarded to Congress and the White House, alluded to its anticipation that “thousands of school districts across the nation will take similar actions” in the weeks leading up to the deadline.

In another developments, the F.C. School Board at its meeting this Tuesday reaffirmed and revised its policy on class size and teacher class load originally adopted in 1974, by approving modifications to its Policy 6.5 which spelled out class sizes not to exceed an 18-to-1 student-teacher ratio for preschool classes, 22-to-1 for kindergarten through the second grade, 24-to-1 for third through eighth grade levels.

At the high school level, it adjusted the policy to lower the class size for regular classes from 26-to-1 down to 24-to-1 in most courses (with some exceptions for classes in physical education and visual and performing arts).

It spelled out to “allow lower, reasonable and manageable enrollments (15 or fewer) in instructional support courses designed for students with disabilities, ESOL students and students transitioning out of the ESOL program, students requiring remediation and courses taken by students meeting modified diploma requirements.

Language as modified from “directing” administrators to implement these guidelines to suggest they “will make all reasonable efforts” to “develop a schedule or classes that adheres” to the guidelines.

The School Board also weighed in a menu of legislative positions for the coming Virginia State legislative session, including calling for legislation that would provide eligibility for in-state tuition for students without legal immigration status who’ve been approved by the Federal government for deferred action.

It also took a position against allowing home-instructed students who do not meet Virginia High School League requirements to participate in interscholastic sports.

Saying as an elected School Board, it “is better able to respond to the needs of students and desires of parents than policies mandated by the state,” and, as such, “Should have the flexibility to determine policy in areas such as educational alternatives, instructional spending, grading, student discipline and bullying.”

The F.C. School Board also took the position supporting “the work of the Governor’s Task Force on Local Mandates in its development of recommendations to eliminate, suspend and roll-back state mandates and establish a moratorium on all new mandates.”