Sunday, May 20, 2018

Would you trade Florida’s strict class size caps for higher teacher pay?

Florida's class size amendment has been the target of potential revisions since voters approved it 15 years ago.

The latest effort to lessen its strict class-by-class caps comes courtesy of Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. But she's made her proposal with a different twist.

"We actually want the funds to stay in our schools," said Levesque, who serves on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Her recommended amendment would convert the caps to school-wide averages, which a high percentage of school districts already use because of a 2013 legislative loophole. In exchange, the proposal states, "Any funds not spent by districts to maintain the school-level average class size maximums must be spent towards raising teacher pay to the national average."

"That, I think, will give voters more comfort," Levesque said.

Voters rejected a referendum to scale back the amendment in 2010. Levesque said she hoped they would see her proposal as adhering to the clear intent that children and teachers should have smaller classes, while also giving schools a bit more flexibility and, if available, educators more pay.

Each year, at least one lawmaker files a bill to increase teacher salaries. (See HB 389, HB 427)

Levesque said she did not file any other amendment proposals, which continue to trickle onto the state's website after the Oct. 31 deadline. Two other education proposals that recently appeared are:

Proposal 89, by Florida A&M trustee Nicole Washington, to define the purpose of public education in Florida as to "develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job."

Proposal 93, by former Board of Education chairman Roberto Martinez, to permit any school district deemed "high performing" to receive charter status, meaning it would be granted the same relief from state education code as charter schools.

The districts would retain that status as long as they maintain their state "high performing" rating.

Revision commission committees continue to meet through December. The panel has until May to place items on the 2018 ballot.

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