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San Diego Unified Fighting State Penalties For Large Class Sizes

Audio

Aired 1/28/10

San Diego Unified school district officials are getting slapped with penalties for having larger class sizes. They're hoping new legislation will help them avoid the fines.

— San Diego Unified school district officials are getting slapped with penalties for having larger class sizes. They're hoping new legislation will help them avoid the fines.

An education law in California says districts have to pay penalties if their class sizes in kindergarten through third grade exceed 20 students. Middle and high school classes also have restrictions.

The penalties are meant to encourage districts to keep class sizes small. But San Diego school officials call the fines unfair. They say their class sizes are bigger because of state budge cuts.

Monica Henestroza is the district’s legislative affairs manager in Sacramento. She says the penalties have cost San Diego about $14 million. She says other school districts are also feeling the pain.

“Statewide it's a phenomenon,” Henestroza said. “In San Jose, classes went up to 30 (students). In Capistrano, classes went up to 30. I suspect unless there is some type of reform, that this upcoming year, class sizes might increase even more.”

That's because the class size penalties add to school district budget deficits.

San Diego district officials want to pass a bill that would limit or suspend the fines for school districts across the state. They're reaching out to the San Diego lawmakers for bipartisan support. So far they’ve discussed proposals with San Diego Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and San Diego Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block for help.

Block says he's onboard.

“Low class size is a good thing, but penalizing districts in an era where they can't afford to keep the size low just really doubles the penalty on them,” Block said.

A UCLA study recently confirmed teacher layoffs have led to bigger class sizes in most California schools. Researchers say elementary schools are the hardest hit.

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