SANTA FE – A proposed constitutional amendment to limit school class sizes is moving forward after the Senate Rules Committee voted 6-4 Wednesday to endorse the bill.
The caps outlined in Senate Joint Resolution 2 would limit classes to between 18 and 25 students depending on the grade level, with the smallest class sizes required for kindergarten through third-grade classes.
If approved by the Legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment would need to be supported by a majority of voters statewide to take effect. The measure would not require the governor’s approval.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, said the constitutional amendment is necessary because the state Legislature has repeatedly voted to waive maximum class size rules already in place as a way to cut the education budget.
“The idea obviously is if they (class size caps) are in the Constitution, we have to do it. We can’t waive our way out of that,” Keller said.
Each of the Rules Committee’s four Republicans voted against the measure. Republican members emphasized support for requiring smaller class sizes, but several argued that a constitutional amendment shouldn’t be used to enact policies that are the responsibility of the Legislature.
“To do this in the constitution like this and to negate the things we are sent up here for and are supposed to answer for, I just don’t want to do that,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the Legislature shouldn’t be trusted to take the best course of action on class sizes, considering its history of suspending the rules to save money.
An analysis of the proposed amendments reported that limiting class sizes in schools would require the state to increase its education spending by nearly $63 million per year. The smaller class sizes would also require about $204 million per year in new capital outlay expenses to help schools build new classroom space and address other infrastructure needs, the analysis found.
To phase in those new expenses, the constitutional amendment would not require the classroom caps to take effect until the 2020 school year.
“This gives us plenty of time, I think, as a Legislature to figure out how to fund this and how to phase it in,” Keller said.
The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, as House Joint Resolution 7. The House version is scheduled to be heard in a House committee today.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal