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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

How much did 'schools of choice' option affect Florida's class size compliance?



The effect of Florida's 'schools of choice' class size option was dramatic, education commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a recent letter to the Senate Education Committee.

Before appeals, Florida schools of choice were out of compliance by just 84 students statewide in 2014, Stewart wrote. If those same schools had been held to classroom counts, as the 2002 amendment mandates, they would have missed by 31,257 students.

If those numbers would have been applied to penalties, districts that used the schools of choice designation would have faced $162.5 million in funding adjustments. Instead, they paid $421,513, Stewart noted.

Districts that escaped large potential fines by using the loophole, which Senate Education chairman John Legg helped write and is now trying to close, include Miami-Dade ($49.1 million), Duval ($21.6 million), Palm Beach ($10.8 million), Lee ($10.6 million), and Broward ($10 million).

Locally, Pasco schools could have faced a $6.8 million fine, while the Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough districts would have faced just over $200,000 combined.

The commissioner's report "gives you a sense of the magnitude of what is out there," Legg said.

Pointing to the vast difference between Hillsborough and Pasco, the two counties in his district, Legg suggested that the law as written creates an inequitable, nonuniform system of education "that I don't think is defensible."

He called it an "arbitrary, self-defined loophole around the class size amendment," and stressed that his committee will push hard to see it changed.

"I helped write it," Legg acknowledged. "School districts said, 'Give us some flexibility. Trust us to apply it.' We did. I don't think they applied it in the manner the Legislature intended. They violated that trust."

House leaders said they also are looking into changing the law. No bills have yet been filed.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 7:08am]


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