How hard is it for Florida schools to meet class size rules?
Almost since the day in 2002 the Florida voters approved class size restrictions for public schools, superintendents and principals have criticized the law as inflexible and out-of-sync with daily realities in the schools. Students come and go, they have said, making it nearly impossible to keep student counts stable — particularly inside classrooms, rather than as schoolwide averages.
This year has proven no exception. After the October official counts, with time for districts to review their data for flaws, the Department of Education has reported that 31 of Florida's 67 school districts failed to meet the mandate of no more than 18 children in core courses prekindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in high schools.
Among large districts, Duval had the highest percentage of classes out of compliance, with 19.5 percent. That represented 2,438 students. Other larger districts that didn't meet the mark included Volusia (18 percent of classes), Manatee (18 percent) and Broward (12 percent). Miami-Dade also failed to fully comply, with 4 percent of its classes over, representing 1,754 students.
Small districts, with fewer schools and classrooms, face perhaps bigger potential problems. In Levy County, for instance, 47 percent of the elementary classes did not meet the rules. The district was 101 students over capacity for its 617 total elementary classes. Overall, the district failed to make class size in 26 percent of its classes.
Other small districts in a similar situation included Hamilton, Lafayette, Gilchrist and Jefferson.
Lawmakers have twice been unsuccessful in asking voters to change the amendment. Talk still floats around about easing the restrictions, or perhaps the penalties, in this area. Backers have argued that small class sizes contribute to improved student performance, and noted that many districts find a way to meet the rules. This year, all four Tampa Bay area districts — Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas — had no classrooms out of compliance.
Given its limited resources, does Florida need to consider at least temporary measures to give districts greater flexibility in meeting the amendment? Or has this discussion been settled once and for all?
Districts had until Dec. 14 to appeal the state's findings on whether they complied with the class size amendment. The state plans to review the appeals during the first week of January, after which time it will issue determine whether alternate calculations are warranted. The Legislative Budget Commission will set fines and reallocation of funds after that.