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What class-size amendment?



The mountain of cash Florida will need to pay for the class-size amendment looms bigger ever year. And yet the noise about it in Tallahassee has suddenly subsided to a whisper. A week before the legislative session begins March 6, almost nobody (except Rep. David Simmons) thinks lawmakers will take a third whack at making the 2002 amendment more flexible. Here's a few reasons why: Gov. Jeb Bush, who campaigned against the measure, is out of the picture. New Gov. Charlie Crist says he's going to carry out the will of the people. And the people, judging by any and every poll, like the amendment even more now than they did in 2002. "How many times can you bang your head against the wall?" Board of Education member Kathleen Shanahan, a Bush appointee who helped lead Crist's transition team, told The Gradebook recently.

The state has already forked over $7 billion for the amendment, and the BOE is recommending another $5.8 billion for it this year. But next year – when the class-size implementation schedule shifts to the classroom level – the amendment will need bigger buckets of money for operating costs. The Department of Education projects the amendment will need a total of $25.6 billion through 2010, when its hard-and-fast caps must be met in every classroom.

The amendment's critics may not be moving, but they’re still groaning. "Costs aside, the 'iron-clad cap' at the classroom level will be a true train wreck when implemented," wrote Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, in an e-mail. "I'm always amazed at how few folks in schools still understand what the final implementation will require of them."

Plenty of research suggests modest reductions in class size will only bring small gains in student achievement. Plenty of research suggests $25.6 billion – or even a fraction of that - would be far better spent on finding and keeping great teachers. But after two failed attempts, lawmakers show little desire for sticking their necks out yet again, especially when the new guv says he's not about to stick his neck out either.

"Clearly, it's expensive," Crist told The Gradebook. But "the people have spoken. We need to honor what they have said. Now, if some other group without my input puts something on the ballot and the people change their mind? Boss has the right to change their mind, but I’m not pushing it. I think it’s time to move on."

At this point, Rep. Simmons, R-Maitland, may be doing the Legislature's best impersonation of Sisyphus. Simmons says he's preparing legislation that would make the class-size amendment more flexible and, in return, transfer the savings into across-the-board pay raises for teachers. He's even talked to the unions about it. "I intend in every way to pursue this," said Simmons, who heads the Committee on 21st Century Competitiveness.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:14am]


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