Here comes new attempt to scale back Class Size Amendment

02/16/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Two weeks before the Florida Legislature convenes for its formal regular session, there is again talk of class-size rules being scaled back because of budget issues.

As mandated by the passage of the 2002 Constitutional amendment, class-size rules are scheduled to be fully implemented by next year.

But according to the state board of education, approximately a quarter to a third of all of the state’s classrooms will be above the cap next year- and it’s expected to cost over $800 million to bring them into compliance. Legislators are working on how to deal with this dilemma.

Republican Sen. Stephen Wise is working on a bill that he will introduce next month. Wise says to revise the 2002 Class Size Amendment, voters would have to approve a new constitutional amendment.

The law mandates that high school classes have no more than 25 students, fourth through eighth grade classes would have no more than 22, and preK thru 3rd grade no more than 18. The law mandates that it happened by next year.

The Jacksonville-based legislator says he spoken with all the key players involved in education in Tallahassee, and he says most are onboard with doing something to avoid the financial stress that the state will have to contend with if the law isn’t scaled back.

This is not the first time some legislators want to scale back the Class Size Amendment. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was re-elected the same night the education law passed, tried the same thing, as have others, to little or no effect.

Daman Filer worked on getting the Class Size Amendment passed back in 2002. Now working with the group Progress Florida, Filer responds to the latest attempt to reduce the plan.

The Florida School Board Association has endorsed a new constitutional amendment that would keep the caps at a school level.

Dr. Wayne Blanton is the organization’s president.

The cost to build the needed new classrooms to accommodate class size would be approximately $284 million over the next couple of years.

At this moment, state officials say they have no idea what kind of funding for school construction they may receive from the economic stimulus bill which could help alleviate that.

But Filer, an activist who worked to get the Class Size Amendment passed, says the Florida Legislature had a constitutional requirement to begin funding the plan from the get go, and he says they delayed.

Another critic of the plan to scale back class size is the Florida Education Assocation. A spokesman for the group says he understands the pain it might be for legislators, but it’s something that must be done.

Wise says if a new amendment is approved by the legislature to reduce the penalties of the class size, it would probably go before voters in 2010.

The exact number the state's Dept. of Education says it would cost next year would be $838 million dollars - that includes construction and operating costs. The $284 million earlier referenced is for construction over the next two years.

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