Putting Education Reform To The Test

Legislation Gives Florida School Districts More Flexibility On Class Sizes

Jeremy Wilburn/flickr

Schools will have more flexibility carrying out Florida's class size amendment under a bill proposed in the Florida Legislature.

A bill that would change the way schools are penalized for not complying with class size requirements is getting bipartisan support so far in Tallahassee.

The House Choice and Innovation panel made a few tweaks to the legislation and approved it Wednesday with just one member voting against it.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2002 forcing schools to shrink the number of students per teacher, depending on the grade level.

Schools that don’t meet those requirements pay a financial penalty based on each class that’s out of compliance.

The new proposal would change how the penalty is determined.

“Currently it is done on a class by class basis,” said Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, the bill’s sponsor. “This would change it to a school wide average, which is the same as the charter schools have.”

Charter schools are public schools that are privately operated.

Moraitis said most classes will still have to meet the requirements in order to achieve the appropriate school wide average. A constitutional amendment making a similar change was proposed in 2010, but failed to win a 60 percent majority required for passage.

The maximum number of students allowed per teacher:

  • Pre-K through Grade 3 — 18
  • Grades 4 through 8 — 22
  • Grades 9 through 12 — 25

Besides giving districts flexibility, the bill could save taxpayers some money.

The state provides money to districts for class size compliance – almost $25-billion since 2003.

It’s no surprise that districts support the proposal. Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told lawmakers it’s fair.

“All accountability provisions should be equitable for all providers of public education in the state,” Carvalho said. “Right now, there is a dichotomy in terms of the application of accountability for class size in terms of who the provider is – traditional vs. charter.”

Carvalho said the bill will alleviate cases where schools are in full compliance until a large family moves to a new school zone or students who qualify for honors courses can’t take them because those classes are full.

Georgia Slack, a lobbyist for Broward County Public Schools and a consortium of school boards, said the goal is not to change class size requirements.

“We are just trying to put a more reasonable approach to the penalty,” Slack said. “Every penalty we pay is money that we take away from the students’ academic curriculum.”

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, voted yes on the bill.

“I am absolutely a proponent of smaller class size,” she said, “but I understand that the school districts need flexibility.”


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