State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais drops proposal to permanently eliminate class size regulations

Facing criticism from educators statewide, S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has backed off a controversial proposal that would’ve eliminated some class size regulations.

The state’s top schools leader had been supporting changes to the rules governing mandatory staffing levels in South Carolina schools. He wanted to give more flexibility and control to local districts, but teachers and education advocacy groups across the state voiced opposition to his plan. They feared the changes would hurt students by growing classes to unmanageable sizes.

The state Board of Education was slated to take up the issue at its Nov. 13 meeting, but Zais announced Thursday that the state department had recommended that the state board not approve the changes.

“This flexibility has been law for the past four and a half years,” he said in a statement. “The proposed change would make it permanent. Some have stated that suspending some staffing requirements would lead to packed classrooms. This misinformation is motivated simply by pure, partisan politics.”

The General Assembly has passed provisos annually for four years allowing districts to exempt themselves from certain state-required class ratios. Zais said the state hasn’t heard any complaints from teachers, school boards or parents about misuse of that authority, and local leaders are better equipped to make staffing decisions than those in Columbia.

Zais said he still plans to recommend that lawmakers renew the law suspending mandatory staffing requirements.

EdFirstSC, an education advocacy group led by a Charleston teacher, released a statement congratulating Zais on his decision to withdraw what it described as an “ill-conceived” proposal.

“It’s possible that his withdrawal is something other than an attempt to avoid a humiliating defeat on second reading,” the group stated. “Perhaps (Superintendent) Zais simply decided to follow the suggestion we made three weeks ago, when we publicly called for him to withdraw his outrageous proposal, on the grounds that it was clearly out-of-touch with the will of South Carolinians. ... We’d like to remind Mick Zais that we also suggested that he drop out of next year’s race for re-election.”

Zais, a Republican, has said he will seek a second term next year’s election. Two former educators, state Rep. Mike Anthony, D-Union, and former state director of school transformation Montrio Belton, are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.

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