School board member Richard Barrera mentioned something interesting yesterday when I rung him up to talk about class size: San Diego Unified is pushing for the state to reimburse them an estimated $14 million in penalties for upping class size. Barrera said that money, in turn, could actually be used to reduce class size by hiring more teachers.

Confused? Let me explain. California encourages schools to make K-3 classes smaller by paying them roughly $1,000 each student in a class up to 20 students. If schools crowd more students into the classroom, they don’t get the $1,000 per kid for those kids. That money also gets docked for going over the class size guidelines — a penalty of 20 percent for classes of 23 to 25.

So when San Diego Unified increased class sizes from 20 to 24 in the youngest grades and from 15 to 24 in the schools that were part of the pilot program we described today, it lost a lot of its class size money, including $14 million in penalties. Bigger classes still mean that San Diego Unified saves money because it needs fewer teachers, but losing some of its state money means that it doesn’t save as much money as it could.

What Barrera wants the state to do is cancel the penalties and use those dollars only to keep classes as small as it can, even if they won’t be as small as the law originally intended. Classes might not be able to stay as small as 20 students, he said, but maybe the added money could mean classes of 21 or 22 kids instead of classes of 24. I’ll keep tabs on the idea and let you know if it makes any headway.


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