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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.

Respectfully submitted,
Kathleen Oropeza, partner
Christine Bramuchi, partner
Linda Kobert, partner

[Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 3:17pm]


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