Are class size counts on their way out for Florida's class size enforcement?
Both chambers of the Florida Legislature this week advanced bills that would end penalties for schools that do not meet voter mandated class size requirements at the classroom level.
SB 808 and HB 591 would eliminate fines on schools with classrooms that miss the mark, instead allowing them to measure class size as a schoolwide average. The legislation faced no opposition in either the Senate Education Committee or the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, did ask the obvious question: "Is this a workaround to the constitution?"
Voters have twice rejected changes to the amendment, which they imposed in 2002. It mandates classes of no more than 18 students in kindergarten through third grade core courses, 22 in fourth through eighth grades, and 25 in high school.
Lawmakers, urged on by school district officials who bemoan the inflexibility of implementing the rules, have changed the laws governing the mandate several times. They have redefined several courses to not be counted, and allowed "schools of choice" to avoid the stricter counts. Charter schools also have not been subject to the classroom-level requirement.
Sponsor Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, argued that all schools should face "that same equal playing field." He told Newton that his proposal would not upend the constitutional provision.
"The Legislature has been tasked with actually devising penalties for schools that are out of the constitution," he said. "This just allowes schools to average class size per school and category in meeting that requirement."
Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, said he supported the bill after talking with his local school district officials, "because it gives them flexibility."
Lee did ask for assurances, though, that any classrooms found out of compliance would still be publicly reported, along with plans to correct the situation. Massullo said an amendment to that effect will be coming.