When has a school district made 'appropriate efforts' to meet class size?
With Florida's 2002 class size amendment now in full swing, school districts around the state are bragging that they met the standard -- often at a cost of millions -- or tallying up the level of their expected fines -- again, often at a cost of millions. Right now, it appears that the Palm Beach school district missed by the most, a whopping 21,152 classrooms, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Will the fines come to pass? That's really in the hands of the Florida education commissioner, currently Eric J. Smith (although who knows who will hold the job after the new governor takes office).
State law implementing the class size amendment (Fl. Stat. 1003.03) says the commissioner may reduce the penalties if he "has evidence that a district was unable to meet the class size requirements despite appropriate efforts to do so or because of an extreme emergency."
So we asked Smith how he would define "appropriate efforts." Here's his response:
"Appropriate efforts will have to be considered on a case by case basis and we will not know those cases until the calculation is complete and the appeals process is under way. As part of the appeals process, districts will have the opportunity to provide information they feel will prove that appropriate efforts were made. I will need to review that information to be able to make a recommendation to the State Board."
Even under that vague explanation, it's not likely a district like Palm Beach, where the superintendent made clear he wouldn't hire enough teachers to meet the amendment until after voters decide Amendment 8, would meet the mark of "appropriate efforts."
But what about districts like Leon and Manatee, where they hired lots of new teachers but refused to move kids out of their zoned schools, or out of the only available section of an Advanced Placement course? They didn't do as much as the districts that took all the necessary steps, but they did spend time and money to try to comply, stopping only where leaders decided the extra steps would harm children's education or lead to what they considered unnecessary spending.
Smith is waiting for the actual appeals to make any calls. What do you think he or future commissioners should take into consideration when deciding whether a district made "appropriate efforts" to meet class size?