Apologists for the bloated bureaucracy of public education like to bemoan unfunded mandates as the chief cause of budget expansion. Yet rarely, when pressed, can they provide a meaningful list. And very often it’s the public school activists themselves pushing the most clostly mandates. Such is the case the with state’s one, true mandate: K-4 class size.

State law requires classes for kindergarten through the fourth grade be limited to 22 pupils per teacher. Why? Why not! Why not 19, or 23? There is very little science backing the class size myth, but a whole lot of politically active adults do.

State Rep. Rob Eissler, who chairs the House’s education committee, told the Dallas Morning News that teacher quality is more important than class size.

Rather than set any limit on class sizes, the state should instead demand performance. We expect our kids to have academic gains. Then, let the school district, principal and individual teacher set the class sizes that work best. Some teachers may be able to effectively handle a larger class-size — and should be rewarded financially for it. Other teachers may be better suited to smaller classes meeting special-needs students

Everyone likes to yammer about local control. In this most practical of issues — assigning students to teachers in appropriate classroom settings — the decision truly is best made at the campus level. Yet it’s the teacher unions (excuse me, “associations,” we don’t have unions in Texas) who are fighting tooth and nail to keep the costly class-size regimen in place.

In fact, the real student to teacher ratio is much smaller today than it has ever been. According to the Texas Education Agency, we now have 14.4 students per teacher on the public school payroll — that’s down from 15.2 a decade ago.

From the 1998-99 school year to the 2008-2009 school year, student enrollment grew 15%. In that same time period, the number of teachers on the payroll rose 19% and the number of non-teachers 22%.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."