Parent group pans Florida Senate plan to ease class size restrictions
A draft bill that would give Florida school districts some wiggle room in dealing with strict class size rules has won support from some reluctant lawmakers, but it's not gaining steam with one of the state's most vocal parent organizations.
Fund Education Now, which has sued the state over funding adequacy issues, put out a statement roundly criticizing the bill, saying it would subvert the will of the people.
"You should remember that in the midst of a somewhat curious election cycle, the people spoke for a second time, rose above the roadblocks, and voted to keep class size. Constituents did not vote to add 3 or 5 extra students to the class. They voted to keep class size," the group's leaders wrote in a letter to sponsor Sen. David Simmons (see below).
The group took issue with the bill's position on elementary school classes, virtual programs, charter schools and penalties. A House version of the bill doesn't yet exist, but some House leaders have said they expect to see one soon.
February 24, 2011
The Honorable David Simmons
RE: Class Size Legislation Draft
Dear Senator Simmons,
We have just reviewed the draft of your class size legislation and as the largest allied parent advocacy group in the state we have the following comments:
1. We strongly question the path the Florida Legislature has used to arrive at this place. The efficacy of financing a costly amendment process to accomplish something that could have been remedied by statute eludes us. You should remember that in the midst of a somewhat curious election cycle, the people spoke for a second time, rose above the roadblocks, and voted to keep class size. Constituents did not vote to add 3 or 5 extra students to the class. They voted to keep class size.
We do not agree with the language regarding elementary classes. It runs contrary to the intent of the voters of this state. Parsing the school day of young children, packing specials and skating around the rim of smaller classes in only a few “subjects” is not what parents envisioned when they voted for a second time to keep class size restrictions. We do not agree with carving out certain “subjects” as described in your bill. Your bill as written ignores the preference for smaller classes for the whole day, particularly for elementary grades. We do not agree with this bill’s implication t that unless coursework is tied to a future high-stakes test, Florida is not invested in adhering to class size. That sentiment does not reflect the will of the people.
2. Class Size Penalties. We are surprised and disappointed to see that this is not addressed by your bill. As you know, the penalties do not appear in the statute. The people of this state have figured out that the existing “penalties” are little more than a hostile device constructed to encumber school districts. It is fiscally irresponsible and morally objectionable to assess districts $32 Million for struggling to achieve what the Florida Legislature was tasked to do by the voters and chose not to fund.
3. Charter School Exemption. Charter schools are Florida Public Schools and are funded by public dollars. They should be subject to every measure of accountability imposed on traditional schools. We strongly disagree with this exemption, which creates a separate and unequal caste system within Florida Public Schools. Picking and choosing the type of public school to penalize when all are receiving public dollars is not equitable or uniform.
4. Virtual/Digital Exemption: Your bill does not address this issue. Too little is known about the nature and intent of this type of publicly funded Florida school to exempt it from class size at this time. Since all references to this type of learning include K-20 courses, we do not feel comfortable giving an exemption to an unknown. For example, this exemption might allow 60 or 70 4th graders to be packed into a study hall with a few paraDprofessionals as they toil through their digital day. Parents will not accept this kind of Orwellian education experience for their children. It’s premature to offer an exemption unless the methods and standards regarding the physical classes for virtual/digital learning are clearly and collaboratively defined, understood and the argument for exemption is clearly articulated and not based solely on financial motives.
Kathleen Oropeza, partner
Christine Bramuchi, partner
Linda Kobert, partner