Lawmakers look into new definitions to make Florida's school class size law easier to meet
Florida voters rejected an effort to ease the state's 2002 class size amendment at the polls. But that failure did not dampen demands from school district leaders to make the rules more "flexible" so they can comply.
Republican lawmakers appear willing to oblige.
A draft bill heading to the Senate Pre-K-12 education appropriations subcommittee Wednesday morning (see pages 115-116 of the meeting packet) would redefine the classes that fall under the standards of 18:1 for kindergarten through third grade, 22:1 for fourth through eighth grades and 25:1 in high schools.
Specifically, core courses would be:
- language arts/reading, math and science in pre-K through third grade
- courses that are measured by state assessment at any grade level in grades 4-12
- courses that are specifically named in statute as required for high school graduation that are not measured by any state assessment, excluding extra curriculars
- ESE and ESOL courses
Falling outside the class size restrictions would be "courses that may result in college credit" -- think Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, AICE and International Baccalaureate. That would answer complaints that schools did not have enough students to warrant two (or more) full periods of a high-level course, yet they had too many to meet the mandate. Some superintendents and principals said they would not assign students to virtual instruction for these high-level classes simply to comply with class size rules, deeming that decision instructionally unsound.
But already concerns are circulating that the wording might lead to the removal of AP incentive funding -- money that has come under attack in the past.
The legislation also would give schools wiggle room for students who enroll after the annual October head count, so schools would not have to disrupt classrooms when the "19th child" arrives unexpectedly. The caveat would be that school boards would have to adopt a plan "to ensure that by the beginning of the following school year the students are assigned to classes that are in compliance."
It's clearly a legislative approach to the concerns that voters chose not to change. Expect questions on whether it's constitutionally valid -- the Senate rejected a similar proposal in 2008 when then-Rep. David Simmons put it forth. Simmons is now chairman of the Senate Pre-K-12 education appropriations subcommittee.