SALEM — A bill set to go in front of the Oregon Legislature could relieve teachers and students of overcrowded classrooms.
The bill would require school districts to discuss class size along with salaries, benefits and other topics when making budget decisions, the Statesman Journal reported. A public hearing and possible work session on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday.
Oregon has some of the largest classes in the country, with an average of 25 students per class, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
"At some point, you are so overloaded you just hope everyone has a place to sit," said John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, referring to the challenges teachers face. "And students just don't learn when there are so many students in a room."
Studies show that large class sizes can have negative impacts on attendance, standardized test scores, graduation rates and teacher retention.
Large class sizes are particularly damaging in lower grades, where teachers are building students' understanding of core subjects, such as reading, writing and math. This is in addition to developing social and emotional skills.
There were more than 450 math classes in the state with more than 36 students per class in 2014-15, and more than 70 science classes with more than 46 students, according to the department's 2016 Class Size Report.
More than 20 percent of kindergarten classes had more than 26 students, the report said.
Democratic State Rep. Brian Clem, a chief sponsor on the bill, told the Statesman Journal that class size is his top priority this session. But he doesn't have a strong idea yet whether the bill will pass.
"It is unacceptable when there are more students than desks," he said. "I want (families and educators) in there complaining about class size.
"It should be the highest priority of the district. Everything else should come second," he said. "And then, if they say, great, now we don't have enough money, I'm happy to fight for more money."
Opponents of the bill, including the Oregon School Boards Association, argue ramifications from the bill could cost districts millions of dollars that they would otherwise use to hire new staff, train existing employees and create and expand programs that benefit students.