Class Size Proposal Clears House
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A 2010 ballot proposal to loosen
Florida's class size limits cleared the Republican-controlled House
on Friday on a largely party-line vote, with most Democrats
Republicans argued that a class size amendment to the Florida
Constitution that voters passed in 2002 is too expensive and rigid.
Democrats, though, said it's poured much-needed money into public
schools, helped improved students' academic performance and
shouldn't be watered down.
The amendment caps classes at 18 students for kindergarten
through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade and 25 in
high school. The limits are being phased in and will go into full
effect in 2010-11.
They now must be met on a school-average basis under the
phase-in. The House proposal, HJR 191, would keep that requirement
but let individual classes exceed the averages by three students in
kindergarten through third grade and by five in the other grades.
"There will be no classrooms of 40 students or 50 students,"
said the sponsor, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "The
bill merely allows flexibility."
It does more than that, said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, who
argued against the measure.
"You don't need to destroy the class size amendment for
flexibility," Randolph said. "What you need is to actually try to
strive to something better than what the minimum that the
constitution actually calls for."
The House voted 78-41 for the measure with three Democrats,
Reps. Jim Waldman of Coconut Creek, Leonard Bembry of Greenville
and Debbie Boyd of Newberry, joining the Republican majority.
The GOP has a 76-44 advantage, which would have been enough to
approve the proposed amendment - a three-fifths majority or 72
votes - without help from Democrats. One Republican, Rep. Ray
Sansom of Destin, did not vote.
The measure next goes to the Senate, which has defeated past
attempts to weaken the class size amendment although those
proposals were more extreme, calling only for districtwide
averages. If the new proposal gets on the ballot it would need 60
percent voter approval.
Weatherford said he thought class size limits are a good thing
and acknowledged they've helped students improve achievement, but
he said the present amendment has flaws.
"It is inflexible. It is too expensive and it's ridiculous,"
Weatherford said it prevents school officials from running
public schools in a businesslike manner - effective and efficient.
"We put these chains on them that say if the 19th student shows
up you've got to go find a new teacher, you've got to go find a new
classroom," Weatherford said. "Let's put our money into the
classroom as opposed to just building classrooms."
The state has spent $16 billion since the 2002 amendment was
passed to meet the phase-in requirements and would need to spend
billions more to move to full implementation.
Without the amendment, it's unlikely schools would have received
that money, Democrats argued.
A staff report indicates Weatherford's proposal is expected to
reduce class size spending, but no estimate has been made of how
Weatherford said lawmakers could put those savings back into the
schools for such things as new technology and teacher pay raises.
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