Democratic state Superintendent June Atkinson is traveling the state on a political tour talking about spending cuts to education testing a new line: Republican budgets lead to larger class sizes and hurt learning.
Dubbed the "Class Size Matters" tour, it's a twist on the Democratic message about how the Republicans' budget led to about a thousand fewer teachers. Fewer teachers "means larger class sizes and that means teachers are stretched thin," Atkinson said in a conference call Monday to introduce the August tour organized by the N.C. Democratic Party.
A weakness in the message: the numbers. Atkinson and the party are unable to cite any statistics showing class sizes have increased under the last two Republican budgets. The latest federal numbers date to 2009-2010 -- under Democratic control -- when the average student-to-teacher ratio was 14.12, just below the national average, the party said. How class size changed under Republican isn't yet clear.
The only evidence Democrats cite is anecdotal. Ruth Sartin, an English teacher at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem is a key part of the tour. The 17-year teaching veteran told reporters her classes were as large as 35 to 28 students, making necessities like desks and textbooks uncertain. Sartin blamed the loss of teachers on the larger class sizes.
The state party is helping coordinate the tour by linking in Mitt Romney, saying his support for the Paul Ryan budget would mean more cuts to federal education money that is needed at the local level. Atkinson also criticized Romney's remark that class size doesn't lead to better learning. Romney cited a study to support his claim, but many other studies suggest the opposite.
But whether the attacks on Romney stick, Atkinson has a personal stake. Her re-election bid for superintendent is often overlooked in the campaign hierarchy, given the big presidential and gubernatorial races. The tour will help improve her name recognition. She faces Republican John Tedesco in the November election.