When Florida voters implemented the class size amendment in 2002, they mandated that public schools limit the number of students in core classes like math and science. The limit varies depending on the grade level. Schools were given until the 2010-2011 school year to be in full compliance.
Since 2002, districts have been striving to hit the magic numbers: no more than 18 students per core class through grade 3, 22 students in grades 4 through 8, and 25 students in grades 9 through 12. Districts were given gradual caps to follow on their way to full compliance. But as the recession pulled money away from education funding, it became easier for districts to pay fines for violating the amendment rather than pay what it costs to follow the rules.
When students reported to classes this fall, one district in particular stood out as a class size violator. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) found that nearly half of Broward County’s core traditional public school classes are not in compliance. As it stands now, that’s a $66-million fine. Broward has until mid-February to appeal. If the district can show how it plans to meet class size requirements next year, the fine will be slashed by 75 percent to about $16.5-million.
So what happened in Broward? Last year, the district was nearly in compliance, paying just $732 thousand in fines. But last spring, more than a thousand teaching positions were eliminated in Broward to help cover a $141 million budget shortfall.
The second highest offender is Miami-Dade. It’s facing a fine of $9.3 million, which could also be reduced upon appeal. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald that following 100 percent of the class size requirements would have been “counter-productive and would have caused dramatic collateral damage to education programs.”
Duval was the third highest violator, followed by Pasco, according to initial findings from FDOE. Figures show 93.4 percent of the state’s traditional public school classrooms met the requirements this fall, while 34 districts are not completely in compliance. So, just half of the state’s 67 districts are currently meeting the standards, and most of those are in smaller, rural areas.
In 2010, the Florida Legislature saw the writing on the wall for education funding. Lawmakers crafted an amendment to that would have loosened the class size requirements. Instead of focusing on the maximum number of students in each class, the amendment called for the calculation of school-wide averages, putting more districts in compliance. But the proposal needed 60 percent voter approval for passage, and it only garnered 54.5 percent.
There may be hope for districts next year. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a $1 billion boost in education funding, though he may not get it. Lawmakers will have to deal with a $2 billion budget gap for 2012-2013 when they convene in January.