Merkley Introduces Legislation Calling For Reduced Class Sizes

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley has introduced legislation aimed at addressing overcrowded classrooms.

A release said the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act, is “bold legislation that invests in small class sizes in public schools”. Along with Merkley, the proposal is being put forward by Congresswoman Lucy McBath of Georgia.

Merkley said while students achieve better academic results when they have more individualized attention from instructors, especially in kindergarten through third grade, class sizes have only continued to grow. Merkley said the problem has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Merkley said he attended Oregon public schools as a child and remembers having around 20 children in his first-grade class. Merkley said when he dropped off his son for his first day of school, the class had 34 children. Merkley said he wondered how the teacher could organize and teach such a large group. After a year and a half in which students have mostly been in virtual class rooms, Merkley said students have faced more challenges than ever, and “…to often they are unable to access the attention they need to excel in the classroom and recover from the learning losses of COVID-19”.

The release said the legislation would:

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

*Enable school districts to apply for grant funding to reduce class sizes, which the Secretary of Education will award based on schools with the greatest need

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

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

*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 grades K-3

Merkley said the bill is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, First Focus Campaign for Children and the National Education Association.