Class Size Fight in Tallahassee by Mitch E. Perry04/18/06
After years of warning the public that the class-size reductions approved by voters will force deep budget cuts --and years of seeing the state economy prove them wrong -- legislative leaders are now starting to working on a way to help pay for the program. The Miami Herald reported on Monday that Republican leaders are circulating a draft proposal to put aside $1 billion to $3 billion of surplus budget money into an escrow account that would be used to pay for 30-year bonds to build an estimated $8 billion worth of new schools.
One of those leaders is Miami Dade House Representative Marco Rubioâ€¦He says that legislators need to prepare for the idea that Class Size as currently structured isnâ€™t going anytime soon, so itâ€™s prudent to adequately fund it (roll tape#1 o.q. #1â€?what the plan is aboutâ€?)
In 2002, Governor Jeb Bush campaigned against the Class Size Amendment , saying its costs would be so massive it would â€œblock out the sunâ€?â€¦But that hasnâ€™t happened yet, in large part because the stateâ€™s economy continues to provide budget surpluses â€“ this year nearly $5 billion dollars worth.
But just because Republicans in the legislature are now seriously putting money behind the policy, doesnâ€™t mean they still accept as it is.
Many of these same legislators have also been working to get a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would weaken the class-cap requirements as supported by voters. However Miami Dade County Republican Representative Marco Rubio appears to want to have it both waysâ€¦He insists he supports the concept of lower class sizes, but says school districts and the state need â€œflexibilityâ€?, and therefore, heâ€™s pushing to have that put into the state constitution as well (roll tape#2 o.q.â€? your county wide averageâ€?)
But State Democrats remain skeptical about such a need for â€˜flexibilityâ€™.And to insure that state legislators hear them, theyâ€™ve created a new website, called Florida wants smaller classes.Org. , where citizens can down load petitions saying they still want the Class Size Amendment Mark Bubriski is a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party (roll tape#3 o.q.â€?before it happensâ€?)
Such pressure by the Democrats appears to be workingâ€¦Although never by large margins, but state wide polls for smaller class sizes have consistently showed that the measure still has the support of the majority of Floridians. Because of that, Republicans admit theyâ€™re bid to get a Constitutional Amendment on this yearâ€™s ballot may be in trouble.
But Democrats say thatâ€™s not the only measure that class size opponents are up to.
Thereâ€™s also the plan for what is being called the â€œ65% Solutionâ€?, which is a proposal to mandate that 65% of all education spending be put directly back into the classroom. But this â€œ65% solutionâ€? has worried Democrats who think itâ€™s a back door way of weakening the Class Size amendment. Again, Mark Bubriski from the Florida Democratic Party (roll tape#4 o.q.â€?unanswered questionsâ€?)
Miami Dade Republican Marco Rubio says that the 65% solution is NOT an attempt at weaking the Class Size Amendent â€“ directlyâ€¦.But he says heâ€™ll continue to fight to tweak the measure, because he insists it portends trouble for everyone in public education (roll tape#5 o.q.â€?before the votersâ€?)
Again, theThe online petition drive for class size rooms is at www.floridawantssmallerclasses.org