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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida Tax Watch calls for reconsideration of class size amendment



Florida Tax Watch is proposing yet another attempt to scale back the state's 12-year-old class size amendment.

The organization, perhaps best known for its annual list of "turkeys" in the state budget, has issued a paper suggesting that the class size reduction mandate has been overly costly without significant proven academic results. It recommends keeping the classroom counts intact in kindergarten through third grade, where the impact is most keenly felt, and allowing schools to relax compliance to a school-wide average for the upper grades.

Tax Watch contends such a change could save the state up to $10 billion over a decade. It recommends reinvesting the savings into other public education initiatives.

"Florida's hard working taxpayers have spent more than $27 billion to reduce class sizes and the state has little to show for it," said Bob Nave, Director of the TaxWatch Center for Educational Performance & Accountability. "Florida has ample opportunities to increase student achievement at a much lower cost to taxpayers. Reinvesting money that has been restricted to class size compliance will equip Florida teachers with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, and give more students access to a better quality education."

This proposal is the latest in a string of efforts to roll back the 2002 voter mandate.

Since its passage, the amendment has faced complaints that have ranged from its multibillion-dollar implementation cost to the logistics of keeping classroom counts below the approved level on a daily basis.

Superintendents often have led the press to use school-wide averages rather than classroom counts in determining compliance. Some districts have gone so far as to purposely violate the law despite large fines.

Voters have twice rejected changes, though, insisting that the class size amendment remain intact.

Last year, the Legislature approved a statutory change allowing districts to use school-wide averages for "schools of choice," a designation that districts could place on any campus where children were allowed to attend from outside the set boundaries. Several districts using open enrollment and choice programs took advantage of that new provision, and were approved by the state as being in compliance with class size.

Lawmakers discussed revising this change, but have taken no steps to do so.

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:20pm]


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