News Story

Education Budget Tightened, Alarmist Predictions Fail To Materialize

Novi teacher predicted cuts would 'likely make 40 students per classroom commonplace,' facts say otherwise

Last year, a Novi High School teacher published an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press where he lamented Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget cuts and said they “would likely make 40 students per classroom commonplace.”

When questioned about the claim last year, Novi High School teacher Rod Franchi replied in an email that his district “would probably have something like 40 students per class in many of our conventional classes. I was careful in choosing my words; I didn't say all classes but said 40 students would be commonplace.”

Franchi wasn’t alone when he went public with his concerns over Snyder’s cuts and the impact they would have on public schools. Administrators, teachers and union officials all painted worst-case scenarios.

Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center’s education policy director, questioned back then how classrooms could swell to 40 students in Novi when the district had 325 regular classroom teachers and 6,250 students.

Now, a year after Franchi’s op-ed, Novi School District’s overall average class size was 22.12 students in 2011-12, according to district documents received in a Freedom of Information Act request. Franchi’s average class size was 27 students for the first two semesters. The largest class size he had was 32 students.

Franchi said Wednesday he wasn't making a prediction about Novi's numbers.

"Since I was discussing the state budget, I was commenting on a statewide scenario that was quite possible," he said in an email. "And that is indeed true. Statewide, classrooms  with 40 students are far more common today. The larger point I made was that slashing funding would have both short-term and long-term effects on Michigan K-12 education.

"Whether classrooms are topping out at 45 in some schools or 35 in others, the numbers are up considerably, and from what I have seen, those increased numbers have a significant impact on instruction.

"My main purpose in writing the piece was for taxpayers to see what the budget would mean from someone at the point of instruction."

Franchi said his class sizes have been "considerably higher" this year than in the past.

The biggest classes in the district were at the high school. There were three class types that had average student sizes of 30 or more. Health classes averaged 30.40 students, music classes averaged 31.00 students and physical education averaged 38.70 students.

Novi had 11 classes in the district that had student sizes ranging from 40 to 59. All the classes were either physical education, band, or music except for one health class.

Van Beek said Franchi was like many others who wanted to protect the status quo.

“Defenders of the public school status quo say the same things nearly every time the state debates school funding,” Van Beek said. “If school revenues are increased, they say it’s still not enough and politicians don’t value public education. If revenues decrease, they describe hyperbolic disaster scenarios. The reality is that school districts have much more control over their finances then they let on, and a small percentage point increase or decrease in state funding won’t make or break their budgets.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.