Class size under scrutiny elsewhere, too
It's no surprise by now that Florida educators and lawmakers are taking a close look at how to put off full implementation of the 2002 class-size reduction amendment. Many see it as simply too cost-prohibitive in these tight economic times, when districts face millions of dollars in cuts.
Perhaps it's cold comfort, but Florida is not alone in re-examining its commitment to smaller class sizes. Consider this lead from a story in today's Washington Post:
"Worsening budget conditions are pressing school officials in the Washington area and across the country to consider backing away from what has become a mantra of education: Kids learn best in smaller classes."
The crux of the matter is that schools are needing to find ways to save money, and as we often hear, employees account for about 85 percent of all expenses, so employees are likely to be cut. Fewer teachers, more kids per teacher. Perhaps 20 percent more in some districts. Like it or not.
Of course, there's been some dispute over the value of smaller classes, particularly after the third grade. Florida leaders have acknowledged that research, and some have called for changes to the law to enforce the mandate only in the primary grades. Others, meanwhile, have suggested that the state not count kids in classrooms but instead maintain schoolwide averages for class sizes.
In other states, that would be simply a matter for local boards to decide. But not here. And that's perhaps the biggest issue.
Florida voters put our very specific class-size rules right into the Constitution, and set a deadline of 2010 to have them fully executed. So it would take Florida voters to undo the rules, something many lawmakers are cognizant of as they tiptoe around the issue.
But with millions, if not billions, of dollars at stake, expect this issue to rank high in the budget cutting discussions that occur in Tallahassee during the coming months. The Senate meets next week to start talking budget. Stay tuned.